The Orlando Solar Bears are deep in the hunt for a playoff berth in the ECHL’s South Division. The Solar Bears have 77 points with five games to go. That puts them third in their division, from which the top four will make the playoffs. Paralleling the division standings where their affiliated teams play in the AHL and NHL, the points race is tight as you can see in the table below (as of Thursday afternoon).
ECHL South Division Standings
|2||Greenville Swamp Rabbits||67||37||25||4||1||79|
|3||Orlando Solar Bears||67||34||24||6||3||77|
|4||South Carolina Stingrays||67||36||27||3||1||76|
The last five regular season games will be played against two teams; the Florida Everblades, who have already clinched the division, and the South Carolina Sting Rays, the team chasing the Solar Bears in the standings.
It’s possible the Solar Bears will not know their post-season fate until the very last game of the season, played on April 8. In an unlikely, but still possible scenario, it may come down to whether the Cincinnati Cyclones win their final game of the season, which, per the official schedule, starts exactly 5 minutes later than the Solar Bears’ final game that same night.
Solar Bears’ Coach (and ex-Maple Leaf) Drake Berehowsky is looking forward to the challenge of closing out the season in a tight race; enjoying how the ECHL has significantly improved since his first term as coach in the 2012-13 season. “Would I like to be 20 points up on everybody? Of course. That would be fun too. [But] this makes hockey interesting, and I think it’s great for the fans” he said after Sunday’s game.
He jokingly added parity in the ECHL has some drawbacks. “It’s not to good for the coach, I’ll tell ya that. There’s a lot more grey hairs.”
Good progress up the standings was made last weekend with a three game sweep against the Brampton Beast. This was the second year in a row the Solar Bears swept the Beast on their annual visit to Brampton.
The Beast actually traveled to Orlando earlier this season for the first time and they were also swept there in three games too. Make no mistake, the Beast are a good team. They have a 37-22-3-5 record this season. Of their 30 loses this season, a hilariously high 20% are at the hands of the Solar Bears. It seems they just have their number.
Capping it off was a 7-2 victory Sunday during which the Bears scored six goals in a row, wearing their blue and white Maple Leafs style sweaters. Beast goalie Zach Fucale has seen several starts against the Solar Bears this season, but he wouldn’t end this one.
Interestingly, the game actually didn’t start off in the Solar Bears favour. Willie Corrin, who played with the Solar Bears and Toronto Marlies earlier this season, went to the box on a double-minor. On the power-play a flubbed pass to Brenden Miller at center ice led to a turnover and a short-handed goal scored by Brandon Marino.
That is when the flood gates opened and Fucale broke down. The Solar Bears would score the next six goals. Tony Camaranesi, Derek Angeli, Milos Bubela (x2), and Chris Crane to wrap up the second period.
The Beast coach had seen enough and pulled out Fucale for the third period in favour of Andrew D’Agostini. It didn’t help much as Joe Perry picked up another goal to start the third period when he was left open in front of the net and found the puck on his stick thanks to Faille, scoring the Solar Bears sixth unanswered goal.
There was a lot more going on beyond the goals. While Fucale was dumped for the third, he still stopped 19 SOG in the first two frames, and many were great scoring chances. Camaranesi had a scoring chance with 1:45 left in the first on a nice pass from Denver Manderson; Eric Baier opened the second period with a quick snap that looked like it could have gone in.
All this time the Solar Bears were also effectively killing penalties, including a 3-on-3 in the third. In fact, they killed off all of them in the game.
As interesting as it was for those Solar Bears to get all those goals, I noted many near misses too. Baier had one to open the second period. Miller, the local favourite from Orangeville, only a short drive north (except at rush hour), had a breakaway just before the half way mark of the third. It would have been his first goal of the game, but he wound up actually getting that with an assist from Camaranesi a few minutes later.
Ultimately, you can’t talk about this game, or this series, without acknowledging the incredible effort put in by goaltender Ryan Massa. Looking surprisingly not-exhausted after a heavy workload of three games in four days, and stopping 42 of 44 shots-on-goal in Sunday’s game, the humble Massa went out of his way to credit his teammates for the win.
“I just can’t speak more about the guys in front of me tonight. They played the right way for sixty minutes. Our penalty kill was great, our power play was solid.” said Massa describing the game.
Over all three games against the Beast, Massa stopped 108 of 115 shots on goal. That’s an incredible 0.939 all-situation sv%.
One quibble I would have with his comments is that the power play was not exactly “solid.” Of all opportunities the Solar Bears had in Sunday’s game, they converted on only one.
Impressive again was Daniel Maggio. He’s a solid performer, and is AHL calibre. Perhaps a log jam at his position is blocking the way. Marlies Coach Sheldon Keefe said earlier this season some players like Faille would be with his team if circumstances were different.
Mason Marchment took a punishing blow in the game that left a lot of blood on the ice, Sunday. He came back in the game, wearing a full face shield, so I assumed it was an injury that looked worse when it really was. Berehowsky corrected me saying “No teeth [lost], but, I think he broke his nose and he had some stitches. It was pretty bad.”
Ty Stanton went down too, and it was ugly. He was cringing in pain on the ice. Unfortunately, it was during a fast sequence near the boards, and I don’t know exactly what happened. Even Berehowsky said he missed it, but suggested it was a slash. He added that Stanton was sent to a hospital for evaluation by a doctor. There were no updates available post-game, but Stanton did not play in the Bears game on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the Solar Bears lost 5-4 to the Adirondack Thunder. You can read Don Money’s recap at the link to the right. The team remains in a great position to close out this season and make the playoffs.
Goaltender Charlie Millen, who joined the team March 2 after Kasimir Kaskisou was called up, was released Monday. On Tuesday the team signed Cornell University goalie Mitch Gillam.
The Solar Bears have back-to-back road games against the South Carolina Stingrays on Friday and Sunday. We’ll keep you in the loop with updates as their regular season winds up and the standings are finalised for the season.