My buddy, whose name happens to be Sparks, got married the day that the IHL Solar Bears won the Turner Cup. He asked me to be his best man about a year before the wedding. When I told him that I would be honored to be a part of it, in the same breath, I told him that if there was a playoff game that night, I was going to the game.
Sparks had introduced me to the Solar Bears not long after I moved to Orlando in the spring of 1997. He’d been a Season Ticket Holder for the Bears’ first two seasons, but had given them up because his fiancee wasn’t able to attend all of the games with him.
I started my first day on a new job in Orlando, and as luck would have it, Sparks’ cubicle was adjacent to mine. He had a collection of hockey pucks at his desk, and I at least knew I would be able to strike up a conversation with him.
My first IHL game was the All-Star Game at the Orlando Arena in the 1997-1998 season. Fair warning, I am one of those guys that likes All-Star games. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend three of them, one each in the IHL, ECHL and NHL in Orlando, Orlando, and Atlanta, respectively.
I was hooked after that game. The hockey was fast enough and competitive enough and it was much better than taking the 90-mile drive to Tampa to see NHL games. We attended a few games that season, and we bought season tickets for the next.
I was born and raised on a farm approximately 45 miles southwest of Detroit Michigan. This meant that I was able to watch CBC from Windsor, ON, and was introduced to hockey via Hockey Night in Canada and the occasional Red Wings game on a low-power UHF station.
The Red Wings weren’t very good, and I really wasn’t a hockey fan as a kid. I became a Red Wings fan like many others when the team improved after drafting Steve Yzerman. I used to joke that I had to leave Michigan for the Wings to win a Stanley Cup. After moving to Florida, I became a Lightning fan, since they were the local team.
In 1999, I started a new job and worked with a couple of Canadians — one was a die-hard Leafs fan who had grown up in Mississauga. The other was a hockey fan who’d played juniors, and knew a number of the guys playing in the IHL at that time because he played against them when he was younger. I subscribed to Center-Ice around this time, and was re-introduced to HNIC. It was through my friend and coworker that I really developed my Leafs fandom. It gave us a lot of material for smack-talk at the water cooler.
My NHL fandom is as follows: Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets (I was a Thrashers fan the years I lived in Atlanta), with a small dollop of Vancouver Canucks only because when I first got Center Ice many years ago, I was so excited to hear Jim Hughson call a game, because I had been hearing him as the voice of the EA Sports NHL games for several years.
I also saw the Sedin twins’ second NHL game, and watched one of them score their first NHL goal. I don’t remember which one, it was in Tampa, I was in the nosebleeds for the game.
But first and foremost, I am a Solar Bears fan. I hope (and certainly my goal for covering the team is to treat it that way) to cover the Solar Bears as seriously as if they were an NHL team. It may be ECHL level hockey, but the Bears are MY Team.
When I moved here 20 years ago, I was able to adopt the IHL team without any competing fandom. I didn’t pay any attention to the Detroit Vipers, an IHL team at the time who became a rival for the Bears. I was a Red Wings fan in Detroit; there was no need to pay attention to the Vipers. To a much lesser extent, I am a Detroit Tigers and Pistons fan, and those allegiances were strong enough then to “block” (if you will) my adoption of either the Magic or the Rays (then Devil Rays). The Bears were my new hometown team.
I’ve been an ECHL Orlando Solar Bears Season Ticket holder since the team came “Out of Hibernation” in 2011. I placed my deposit for season tickets while still living in Atlanta and not certain I was moving back. I knew if there was a hockey team here, I had to be a part of it.
Being a Season Ticket Holder is important to me, especially at this level. When I lived in an NHL city I paid more for 10 games than I did for 41 at the minor league level. Having season tickets meant a certain level of personal success; I was able to afford them. It also demonstrated that I was making a commitment to the team.
I know others share this feeling — I’ve had this discussion a few times in my life. The commitment, to the team, the organization, however you want to refer to it, has kept me a season ticket holder for at least the last two ECHL seasons. Now, with this new role writing about the Bears I honestly can’t wait for the season to start. This opportunity (as Katya and Acha can attest) has me chomping at the bit to tell stories, and offer my perspective on many things Solar Bear. I hope you enjoy it.
Remember my buddy Sparks from the beginning of this piece? He, his lovely wife Miranda, and I, all celebrated the Turner Cup Championship together with our friends and neighbors in Section 204 of the arena that night. We modified some of his family’s traditions around weddings so we could all be a p[art of that championship celebration. It is still my 2nd favorite sporting event to have attended in person.
We’ve concluded 5 season of Solar Bears hockey in the ECHL, we’re on our fourth coach, one of them twice. We’ve yet to win a playoff series, and await news on the affiliation agreement for the 2017-18 season.
You may not always agree with my take on all things Solar Bear, but I assure you that they come from a fan. Please feel free to comment below or reach out on Twitter — I will do my best to answer your questions.