On paper, the Orlando Solar Bears should be dominating their opponents. Unfortunately, they don’t play the games on paper. With nine players on AHL contracts on the current roster (and before Sam Jardine, Jean Dupuy and Martins Dzierkals were called up to the Marlies, there were as many as 12), and a strong leadership group of ECHL veterans, Orlando appears to outclass their opponents. The Norfolk Admirals, featuring a couple of former Solar Bears has won 3 of the 4 meetings between them teams this season, including a 5-3 victory Wednesday evening, and a 2- 0 victory Thursday. The Ugly Sweater night game on Saturday went to a shootout.
Darryl Bootland scored 2 goals for Orlando Wednesday, and Josh Winquist added a goal and an assist to lead the Bears attack. Cal Heeter stopped 39 of the 43 shots he faced. Bootland’s first of the game came on the power play at 2:44 of the first period with assists from JJ Piccinich and Nolan Valleau. Orlando added to its lead at 5:43 of the second with Winquist’s goal (assist from Kristian Pospisil).
Orlando seemed to dominate the attack for the first 15 minutes of the game. Norfolk seemed to own the play after that, despite the 2 goal advantage. Norfolk scored the next 4 goals to double up Orlando. Bootland’s second of the game from Winquist and Max Novak came with Heeter pulled for the extra attacker. Norfolk added an empty net goal for their final tally of the evening to make it
“I was disappointed. I didn’t think we put out the effort we could. I think we got up (lead 2-0) and we have to learn how to finish teams off” said Head Coach Drake Berehowsky in his post-game comments. “I thought we had more zone time than them tonight. We had more opportunities in front of the net. When you come home you’re going to have lulls like this. It’s a tough one to lose, but we’ll regroup and be ready to go tomorrow. When we play the way we can and within our structure, we’re a pretty tough team to play against.” With regards to the previous 10 game road trip which the team finished 5-4-1, Berehowsky was happy with the results. “I thought a couple games we could have played better; overall when you come back off the road and you’re above .500, it’s a pretty good road trip.”
Berehowsky was asked about the recent call-ups as well as the spate of injuries the team is facing. It’s tough (with the call-ups) and we have a couple of injuries right now too with Campagna and Thompson; they’re big holes, and we just have to start filling them. Guys have to step up to the plate.” “…it’s been a tough stretch, but we can’t use that as an excuse. We’ve got to come out and play the way we’re capable of and have success that way.” When asked if he can ask Toronto for help, with the injuries and call-ups, Berehowsky joked “I wish they would send down Austin Matthews.” On a serious note, he continued “…it’s tough. They’re always good to us, they don’t ever want to leave us shorthanded. This year is really weird with the injuries we’ve had. We’ve had a lot of concussions and guys have been out for a long period of time. We’ve got to learn to fill the pieces.”
The frustrations continued on Thursday as Orlando was shut out 2-0 in a largely defensive affair. The turning point of the contest occurred during a controversial five on three advantage for Norfolk. Max Novak and Joe Perry were both assessed minor penalties on the same play at 13:20 of the second period. Orlando managed to kill off 1:57 of the two man advantage before Alex Pompeo scored the eventual game winning goal. Norfolk added an Empty Net goal with 12 seconds left in the contest.
“I thought we played well, we just couldn’t score” said Berehowsky after the game. “It’s frustrating, but I was proud of the effort the guys put out today, especially compared to the other night. It’s tough. We’ve just got to stick with it, and hopefully we be able to start putting some pucks in the back of the net.” In commenting on the turning point “I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t know how you call two penalties like that to begin with. I think it’s ridiculous. I think the (Norfolk) coaches went down here and were talking to the refs after, and all of a sudden 35 seconds in we have two penalties. I thought we were outstanding all night. We had zone time in minutes and more opportunities, but, you know what, it’s something the league had to address.
I asked Berehowsky, “When looking at the rosters, I would think that you should be winning 3 out of 4 against this team rather than losing 3 of 4. Is there anything that can be done tactically or from an attitude perspective to turn things around?” “I think it’s a little bit of everything.” He replied. “We’ve run into a hot goalie right now, and, I agree we should be beating them but like I said, we outplayed them and we’ve been very snake-bit right now. The first game there we didn’t play well, the first game here we didn’t play well, but tonight we played well enough to win. We missed some open nets and some great opportunities. Marlies prospect Joshua Winquist was asked after Wednesday’s game about the reasons Orlando has had such difficulties with Norfolk: “I think we just have to show up to the rink with the right mind set. I think we’re a good hockey team and we show it in spurts. I think we should beat every team in this league. But, you know, we’re not playing up to our level and we’re playing down to other team’s levels. I just think we have to show a full 60 and grind and work hard and we’ll come out with two points.”
Mackenzie Skapski played what was his best game as a Solar Bear in the loss, and drew some praise after the game. “He gave us an opportunity to win” said Berehowsky. “We have to do a better job of dialing it in and putting some pucks at the back of the net.” Asked about Skapski’s play and whether he was pushing Heeter for playing time; “Absolutely, they’re both great goalies, and they both want the net. We’re just going to keep going, and make decisions as we go with the way they feel with their health and their energy levels.”
Asked post-game about his performance, Skapski had these comments: “I still think it’s a little early to say I’ve truly found my ground, I need to put together a body of work and tonight was a tough one, I was doing the right things out there and it felt good, but it’s tough to have a game decided on that kind of call in the second period. You just have to keep moving forward, and the more I play like that, the more we’ll have a chance to win. My last game I wasn’t really happy with, so today [Thursday] was a bounce back game for me. But over the course of the last six games I would say five of the six have really shown improvement in my game, and I think I took another step tonight. Moving forward, I would like to take another step and keep thing simple; composed and transfer that into the next game.”
Beautiful, aren’t they? #SolarBears Ugly Sweater jerseys for tonight’s #TeddyBearToss game! ☀️🐻🕶🏒 pic.twitter.com/6S83ju3XJW— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 23, 2017
The struggles continued early for Orlando as they fell to a 2-0 hole early in the first period on Saturday. Joe Perry notched a goal at 16:20 of the first period to cut the deficit to 2-1, and the fans rained stuffed animals to the ice in Orlando’s annual Teddy Bear toss game. Chris LeBlanc notched the tying goal at 13:04 of the second. Former Orlando Solar Bear Derek Angeli took a four minute high sticking double minor at 17:20 of the third period. As the Bears were unable to score in regulation, they went into the overtime session with a 4-on-3 power play but were unable to score the game winning goal. Angeli ended up the hero as he scored on the fifth round of the shootout to give Norfolk its third consecutive win over Orlando.
In his post-game comments, Berehowsky praised his team for their effort in making the comeback. “I think we showed a lot of character coming back. We’ve had a tough stretch of late and I’m sure they’re tired, exhausted; we’re down bodies so this is a good time to get a break and everybody regen and get some healthy bodies.
After the holiday respite, the Solar Bears return to the ice on Wednesday against in-state rivals the Jacksonville Icemen.
You're never too old for a teddy bear 🐻— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) December 24, 2017
Sam Jardine found his favorite 😍#TeddyBearToss pic.twitter.com/FV5PtDUWrc