The first week of the Solar Bears' season is over, and the biggest take-away is that the new coach is 3-0-0-0, the team is rising to the top of the ECHL in league standings (currently second to the Everblades in the South division through dint of playing two fewer games), and one excellent line is near the top of the league in scoring.
This line consists of Toronto Marlies prospects Brady Vail, Jack Rodewald, and Brett Findlay, and has combined for 20 points in the opening three-game homestand. The points are broken down thus: Findlay (4G, 1A), Vail (3G, 5A), and Rodewald (1G, 6A). This line is joined by some depth scoring from second-line C Patrick Watling (1G, 5A).
To top it all off, although the power play occasionally looks like it's caught the pass-a-lot disease, the penalty kill led by prospect Eric Faille (3G, 1A) has been fantastic, netting four shorthanded goals in three games.
Closing the homestand was the very first professional game (and professional win) from former University of Nebraska-Omaha goaltender Ryan "taco cannon" Massa.
PPP had a chance to catch up with Rodewald and Massa on their observations at the end of their first homestand in Orlando before they head up to New York State. Questions are from the combined press corps.
Q: First a question from your fans in Toronto -- is the ice any different down here?
Rodewald: No, it's pretty much the same. It's a little bit different getting used to the humidity when you're playing, it's definitely something to get used to, but it's pretty much the same.
Q: You've been consistently good for the first three games. How did it feel tonight to finally get that first goal and break the ice?
Rodewald: Yeah, absolutely. Consistency is definitely something I really want to work on this year. To get a few points and have a break-out with my line mate Findlay tonight, it felt really nice, but you know you just have to go back to work and keep playing games.
Q: What do you guys feel you did better tonight that was missing maybe on Thursday?
Rodewald: I think we just moved our feet a lot more. In the game on Thursday, we were definitely a lot more slow, stiff-legged. They were catching us on a lot more two-on-ones and what not, but I thought we were just able to hang onto the puck a lot more in their zone and sustain some pressure in there.
Q: How important is it to sustain that pressure, even if it doesn't result in goals? You guys were controlling the pace of the play...
Rodewald: Yeah, absolutely. It's definitely something to build on, it creates momentum. In the next shift you can go out there and really feed off of it, wear down their team. I thought that we did a lot of that tonight. They were really tired by the end of the game, and we were able to take advantage of them there.
Q: You've played with the Marlies in camp, you've played with the Solar Bears. Do you find that the Marlies' coach and [Anthony] Noreen, their systems are really similar? Or do you sense any differences? What do you think?
Rodewald: You know what, I think that their goal, all the way up from the Leafs to the Marlies and down to Orlando is pretty much the same. I mean, being up with the Leafs a month and a bit ago, the systems are the same way. We wanna play in the defensive zone, offensive zone, the same way, just so when we're able to make the jump up to the next level, it's easier to fit in.
Q: You guys have got your first road trip of the season coming up next week, three games up north. What are you looking forward to in these three games?
Rodewald: Just getting out with the guys. It's early in the season still, and some fresh faces in the room, and I think that if we can get out we can really bond. Winning more games hopefully should bring us closer as a team.
Q: What has made that line that you're on so successful this season?
Rodewald: Well I think that compared to other teams we've been together a lot longer. We were up in Marlies camp for quite some time. We played together in St. Johns with the Marlies, and I think that we have just a little more chemistry than you're used to this early in the season, and I think that's helped out a lot -- as well as our speed -- that we're able to produce something.
Press: Congratulations on your first professional win.
Massa: It was a lot of fun. We've got a great group of guys, and they certainly put the puck in the net for me tonight, and it was a great way to get my feet wet in front of the home crowd.
Q: So do you feel like the tallest goaltender on the Solar Bears? [Ryan Massa is reported at 6'0/172 lbs, and Rob Madore is 5'10/179 lbs.]
Massa: You know, it's something that I've certainly had to battle through in my career as well, so both Rob [Madore] and I can certainly relate, being undersized goaltenders in the position, with the amount of traffic and the size of players that we're playing with. But he and I both get along really well. He's been around for a few years, so I'm learning an awful lot from him.
Q: What differences did you sense playing tonight in comparison to your college days in Nebraska-Omaha?
Massa: You know, it's a completely different style of hockey. The players are all very skilled, they can all shoot, they can all score, I think the biggest adjustment is traffic. I think more guys go harder to the net than you see with guys in college. It's a man's game out there for sure.
Q: That third period during one of the scrums down in your defensive end. What was the conversation between you and that Norfolk player --
Massa: I was holding his stick so that none of our guys got it swinging around, right in the face. Trying to keep it down. But, uh, I didn't say a single word. I was just holding his stick so he didn't swing it and hit someone.
Q: How did you find out you'd be getting the start tonight? Was it planned?
Massa: Coach, at the start of this week, told Robbie he'd be starting Thursday and I was going to get the start Saturday, so it was a good week of practice, getting myself mentally and physically prepared for tonight's start. And I was just really happy with the outcome.
Q: Watching how the team played Thursday, coach came in here and said you weren't playing as well as you could have. Did you get a sense that tonight you'd get a better effort?
Massa: Absolutely, you could just tell by the way we practiced yesterday, and our morning skate today was night and day different. Guys were sharp, guys were into it, and we were into it from the drop of the puck. Guys got some chances early, got onto the board early. So the guys are doing well as a group, and came together to finish our opening home-stand, and give us some momentum to carry us into the road trip next week.
Q: Final question, what is [harder] to stop, a puck or a taco?
Massa: No brainer -- taco. I mean, that taco thing, that was tough. I ended up getting a piece of chorizo in the eye at the end of it, so I definitely wouldn't advise standing in front of that, but a puck is certainly way easier.
Q: Has anybody approached you about marketing?
Massa: Not at all, I just did that little skit with them this past summer, to help open up Omaha's new rink. I mean they cranked that thing up, and it pretty much stopped my heart for sure. That was a heavy, heavy taco.