"They’re a different team and they played us hard," Solar Bears coach Vince Williams said, aptly summarizing the gameplay following tonight’s win against Gwinnett, the second in the Solar Bears’ three-game homestand versus the Gladiators at Amway Center.
The announced crowd of 7,884 roared through the final seconds of the game, lauding goaltender Garret Sparks and the Solar Bears as they earned two precious points in the 6-2 win, bringing them to a total of 73 points and clinging hard to the last playoff slot in division standings.
In short, this game was vitally important, and the Solar Bears got the win -- in part thanks to their Leafs and Marlies prospects.
Ben Johnson, a recent Solar Bears addition drafted in 2012 by the New Jersey Devils, scored the game-winning goal at 13:51 of the second period, his first in a Solar Bears uniform. He was assisted by Marlies prospect Brett Findlay. Sparks earned the win with 35 saves on 37 shots, improving his record to 17-6-2.
Despite the early lead gained by Scott Arnold of Gwinnett in the first few minutes of the game, Johnny McInnis answered the goal at 14:05 of the first on a speedy breakaway, tieing up the score to end the period.
The Bears maintained pressure in the second, with Marlies prospect Peter Sivak scoring his second goal as a Solar Bear. This goal was also answered in the second by a power play tally from Greg Carey of Gwinnett, with the team showing marked improvement after this recent addition from the Portland Pirates.
The Solar Bears got and kept the lead in the last five minutes of the second on the goal from Ben Johnson. Gladiators’ goaltender Mike Lee allowed one more to end the second, a clean pass across the crease from Marshall Everson to former Marlies prospect Jacob Cepis, who sent it in for his 14th of the season.
The third period was a battle of two hard-working teams, with Gwinnett unwilling to give up and pulling ahead in shots on goal, but with Sparks able to shut the door on the rest of their attempts. Down by one, the Gladiators attempted to swing momentum with literal gladiating, with the 'C' Stefan Della Rovere dropping his gloves against Gwinnett’s 'C'.
When the ice chips settled, the Solar Bears ended up on the power play. Opposing goaltender Mike Lee allowed one more in the third, a power play goal by Max Nicastro with assists from two prospects, Marlies prospect Peter Sivak, and Leafs prospect Eric Knodel. The remaining goal was scored with three minutes left, a shorthanded goal into an empty net by Marlies prospect Brady Vail.
Playing the second game of a three-game homestay against the Gwinnett Gladiators, the Solar Bears added to their winning record against this team. Currently last in the East Division, the Gladiators have lost five of their twelve game series against the Solar Bears so far this season, with three games left to be played.
Tonight’s win was a crucial two points toward victory for the Solar Bears. The fifth-place Greenville Road Warriors are close on the Bears’ heels at 70 points in 65 games played, meaning that with ten games remaining, no game is a night off to remain in the playoff picture. The Bears aren’t yet done with the Gladiators, meeting them again at Amway on the 24th, and twice more in Gwinnett to conclude the series.
As a bonus because you've read this far, here are some tweets from the game:
Mr. Sparks' best turtle impression pic.twitter.com/tTWCp0pISd— Achariya Tanya Rezak (@tanyarezak) March 21, 2015
Spotted playing for Gwinnett: former Leafs prospect Zach Yuen.— Achariya Tanya Rezak (@tanyarezak) March 22, 2015
(So the Solar Bears' goal song is a mini version of Chelsea Dagger.)— Achariya Tanya Rezak (@tanyarezak) March 22, 2015
The Solar Bears game is on hold for the YMCA.— Achariya Tanya Rezak (@tanyarezak) March 22, 2015
Captains drop gloves. And ... Eye of the Tiger plays.— Achariya Tanya Rezak (@tanyarezak) March 22, 2015