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Solar Bears' home opener showcases Toronto prospects

The Bears double up on the Swamp Rabbits to win 6-3.

Anthony Noreen coaches his first professional game in the Orlando Solar Bears season opener
Anthony Noreen coaches his first professional game in the Orlando Solar Bears season opener
Hockey Rockin' Chick

When your ECHL players train up with their parent club during the summer, the training shows. When your ECHL coach does the same, the result on the ice is crisp hockey with carefully controlled puck movement, and a system that looks mighty familiar to fans of the "Corsi Hockey League."

Tonight’s Orlando Solar Bears home opener was a crowd-pleaser, with new coach Anthony Noreen posting a win in his first professional game against the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. The final tally was 6-3, Solar Bears, but more importantly, the Solar Bears looked like a focused team that’s been playing together for longer than a few weeks.

Fourteen of the Solar Bears’ roster and coach Noreen spent time at the Toronto Marlies training camp this past summer, working hard on drills and getting to know the puck-possession driven systems stressed by the Toronto coaching regime.

This time together was clearly beneficial: Patrick Watling and Matt Rupert, who both scored in the Marlies preseason game against the St. John’s IceCaps, brought that same touch back to the ice in Orlando.

Of the 14 points scored in tonight’s game, 12 were by Toronto prospects, with goals from Brady Vail, Matt Rupert (2), Brett Findlay, Eric Baier, and TJ Foster, and assists from Patrick Watling (2), Jack Rodewald (2), Brady Vail (3), and Johnny McInnis (ECHL). Rupert’s second goal was the game-winner, earning him first star of the game. Rupert’s brother Ryan is a Solar Bear alumni, and currently plays with the Toronto Marlies.

Noreen credited his first win to sticking to structure. "I thought when we played within our structure, and we stuck to it, the puck was on our stick the entire time," Noreen said. "It’s our first game together as a group, and we’ve got a lot of young guys. Growing pains, and they’re going to learn. What we kept talking about was, when we did it right, it was our game."

The Solar Bears special teams were especially strong, reaping in two shorthanded goals. Noreen’s philosophy on the penalty kill is to not sit back and defend. "The penalty kill is always, we’re going to attack," he said, "I mean, that’s what I’ve done ever since I started coaching, and we want to be someone who puts the power play on their heels. To get two shorties tonight, especially that one at the end, was huge. I thought the special teams were key for us."

Noreen also credits the excitement at the rink with firing up his team and sucking momentum from Greenville. The announced crowd of 9,366 at the season opener was the second-largest that the franchise has seen, and Noreen was grateful for the noise. "I’ll tell you what really helped us was the crowd...we could feel it on the bench. Every time it felt like [Greenville] got momentum, we fed off our crowd…[It was] the biggest crowd I believe I’ve ever coached in front of. What a home-ice advantage."

Goaltender Rob Madore ended the night saving 23 of 26 shots, and proved with aplomb that he could fill the somewhat larger skates of Garret Sparks. Although smaller in stature than Solar Bears fans are used to (Madore joked that he needed a stool to reach the microphone for the post-game presser), his movement in the crease was swift and limber, and his vision through traffic was discerning.

Notably, Madore played in front of brand new Geico-branded pipes. When asked if he was distracted at all by the advertising, he quipped, "I honestly couldn’t care -- if they help me save 50% more shots, I think I’d be pretty happy."

More insights into the prospects’ time with the Marlies, and coach Noreen’s too, will be coming at you soon.

For now, watch the highlights:

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