Friday night, the Orlando Solar Bears picked up a second win in their series against the Brampton Beast. The game play and energy of the team was stronger than in Thursday's win, where their possession and scoring chances peaked in the first period, then stagnated. On Friday, there was high energy through all three periods; the team even increasing their momentum as the game went on.
The Beast kicked off scoring in the first period. Nick McParland put the puck past Bears' goalie Rob Madore, despite being short-handed. The Solar Bears responded less than two minutes later on their next power play opportunity. Jack Rodewald was awarded his 14th goal on a puck that bounced by Beast goalie Kenny Reiter.
Getting a power play goal was a welcome change from Thursday's game where the Bears were not able to score on any of the 5 opportunities, including one double minor.
"It's always good to get one." said Solar Bear's coach Anthony Noreen. "That was probably the thing we spent the most time on today in our meetings... showing them examples of why they didn't have success yesterday, and how we can be better."
But Noreen's philosophy is that there is more to a power play opportunity than getting a goal. "We want them to go out and get the momentum for our bench. We felt [Thursday] night there was a lot of times where we lost the momentum after the power play. I felt tonight we did a much better job, having sustained pressure, and keeping the momentum on our bench when the power play ended."
The Bears added a second goal late in the first period. Nicklas Lindberg created a two on one opportunity with the Beast's forwards stuck back in the neutral zone. He passed it to Brady Vail, who earned his 18th goal of the season.
WATCH: Vail so fast the @BramptonBeast cameras can't keep up as he roofs it! #SolarBears #Wheels pic.twitter.com/WUPpUnLDcx— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 12, 2016
The second period required a lot of special team work. The Solar Bears took three penalties, but killed them all off successfully. Rylan Schwartz scored his 14th goal of the season mid way through the period. It would be his first of two for the night. Noreen had high praise for his contributions to the team this season.
"He's a guy that's scored a lot of big goals for us this year. It seems like whenever we need one, he's the guy that usually gets it for us."
In the third period of Thursday's game the Bears looked worn down by the Beast, but on Friday Noreen felt they held it together, and even improved as the game went on.
"They were coming at us so hard in the first, I think sometimes it got a little chaotic for us. I thought in the second, and especially the third we had a little more poise and just made the plays that were available; didn't force it, just took what was given."
The Beast scored two more goals in the third, including one in the last minute, but through the whole game Madore stopped 24 of 27 shots. The Bears' picked up two more goals in the third from T.J. Foster and Nicklas Lindberg, in addition to the second goal by Schwartz. Patrick Watling did not score, but notably earned three assists.
The win was extra special for the Bears' rookie Brenden Miller, a native of nearby Orangeville. He was a member of the OHL's Battalion, and played with them at the Powerade Centre for three seasons.
"Lots of billets, and fans, and family came down and said hi to me. It's pretty cool to see all the people I got to know when I played in Brampton." Several of his family members were in attendance for the game, easily identifiable in the crowd with their Solar Bears jerseys. "They've come down to Orlando a couple times too. They love coming to my games, and it's a huge part of their life. It's pretty cool to have that support from my whole family."
Miller's first season of pro-hockey is going well. The defenceman has picked up 12 points in 44 games, second only to Eric Baier on the active roster.
The third and final game of the Solar Bears' series in Brampton is today at 2pm.