Solar Bears in Sunny February: Welcome Joe Howe

Howe ya doin?

The glass is always half-full in Florida, so at least I can say that Orlando still loves its hockey. I know this because a decent crowd (for an ECHL team) has been attending every home game, despite the fact that the Bears just lost their fifth game in a row. February has been undeniably rough for the Solar Bears. With 24 games left, they stand four points in back of a playoff spot (8th in the conference), but the problem with the team is definitely not its goaltending.

Garret Sparks has continued to prove that he's too good for the ECHL. He was named the ECHL goaltender of the week for February 10th, after posting a 3-0-0 record in that week of play, with a .977 SV%. At that point, he was 10-1-1 in his last 12 starts. He sits at 13-6-2 for the season, with a .935 SV%.

Even the bigwigs gave him some props:

"Garret's situation in Orlando highlights the importance of our relationship with the Solar Bears," said [Kyle] Dubas. "They are affording Garret excellent coaching and development opportunities and allowed Garret to get his season on track."

Perhaps the Bears are anticipating an eventual upward move for Sparks, because nearing the trade deadline, the Bears acquired another goaltender. Joe Howe comes to the Bears from Rapid City in exchange for "future considerations." Howe currently looks like backup material with his .878 SV% in the past twelve games, but his pretty decent history of NCAA play for Colorado College could point to a brighter future.

So what IS the problem with the Bears right now? It's hard to nail down an answer. Vince Williams, Solar Bears coach, had this to say about why the team is doing so poorly:

"It's a tough question. We sit there, and we ask, 'Why?' too."

...Great. No, wait, could it be because half the team, including last year's MVP, F Jacob Cepis, are out on IR?

"We need to re-evaluate ourselves," said Solar Bears forward Patrick Watling, who assisted on Della Rovere's goal to give him four in the past three games. "Take it one step at a time, look at every aspect of the game and change our mistakes."

Garret Sparks made 43 saves for the Solar Bears, who were missing leading scorer Jacob Cepis, Scott Tanski and Mickey Lang. All are out with lower-body injuries.

...Uh, yeah, that's probably it.


In other news, the ECHL Fantasy Goalies and Players have been selected! The Solar Bears' player is Cepis (yep, the one currently injured). He leads the team this season with 12 goals, 32 assists. The fantasy goalie is, of course, Sparks.

What the heck is this program?

Fans had the opportunity to vote on for one player on each ECHL member team’s ballot to help select the 2014-15 Fantasy Team. The winning player will wear a special ECHL Fantasy Team jersey at an upcoming home game.

A goaltender for each team will also participate in the MeiGray Golden Goalie Program. The starting goaltender for each team on the preselected date will wear a special jersey.

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