The Solar Bears ended 2017 facing long time in-state rivals Florida Everblades in Estero, Florida.  Coming off an exciting come from behind overtime win over Jacksonville, expectations were high going into the game.

Expectations were far from met as Orlando was limited to a season-low 14 shots on goal in the 7-1 loss.  This tied the franchise mark previously set on October 19, 2013 vs. Florida.  Max Novak assisted on Joe Perry’s goal in the game.

In an effort to increase scoring, head coach and GM Drake Berehowsky negotiated a three team trade that brought Hunter Fejes to Orlando from the Wheeling Nailers.  Fejes was a leading scorer for the Nailers at the time.  That signing paid immediate dividends as Fejes netted a hat trick in his second game as Orlando bested Jacksonville in the first of a three game series against the Icemen.  Fejes and Martins Dzierkals (1g-2a) each enjoyed three point nights, and Jeff King added a goal in the 5-3 win last Friday evening.

Mackenzie Skapski continued his outstanding play on Saturday, leading Orlando to a 3-0 shutout victory.  Skapski’s shutout was the first of the season for Orlando, the first regular season shutout by a Solar Bears net minder since Ryan Massa earned a 3-0 win vs. Utah on March 10, 2017, and the first road shutout by an Orlando goalie since Rob Madore picked up a 3-0 victory at Brampton on March 13, 2016.

Toronto Marlies prospects Joshua Winquist and Martin Dzierkals each scored, along with Chris Crane.  Orlando was forced to play the final 5:45 of regulation down a man after defenseman Sam Jardine was assessed a minor penalty for high-sticking, a major penalty for cross-checking and a game misconduct for cross-checking. Although Jacksonville pulled goaltender Jamie Phillips for an extra skater, the Solar Bears managed to preserve the shutout.  Jardine was suspended by the league for the game on Sunday.

Orlando also recently added Forward Kale Kerbashian to the roster.  Kerbashian, signed as a free agent, made his Solar Bears debut and scored an unassisted shorthanded game-winning goal as Orlando completed the three game sweep of the Icemen.  Alex Gudbranson opened the scoring for the Bears, and Chris LeBlanc added another in the 3-1 victory.  Sunday’s home game afforded us an opportunity to speak with Coach Berehowsky and some of the Solar Bears players.

Drake Berehowsky

On the weekend series sweep of Jacksonville:  “It was great.  I think the guys battled hard, and they stuck to the game plan for the most part, but I still think we have more, and I hope the guys realize we have more to show.”

On the bounce back after the losses to Florida:  “It’s huge.  I was disappointed after the Everblades games but we have to learn from these games, we have to learn we can compete with anybody when we play the right way.  And when we’re committed to playing the right way, which is a hard thing to do, we’ll have success.  When we want to go off on our own page, it’s like anything in this world, there’s rules for a reason, there’s structure for a reason, if you’re driving through a red light, it’s going to cause chaos, and we caused too much chaos for ourselves.  So, right now we have to get back on track, and we’ve got to play a certain way to be successful.”

On the chippiness of the series against the Icemen, and Cal Heeter blowing kisses to their bench after the game:  “Well, he was run twice, so that’s probably the reason why he was doing that..  It’s the competitor in our guys; our guys are highly motivated, and they compete, and you know sometime emotion gets to them.”

On whether the scouting report on playing Orlando is to play a physical game to take Orlando off of their game:  “I think we want to be a physical team as well.  We track all of our hits, I think it was pretty even tonight.  I don’t think we’re falling behind on the physicality department.  We want to continue to be physical.  I thought there was a lot of specialty teams today, and when there’s specialty teams, it’s hard to generate hits; it’s hard to generate a forecheck; but I thought our guys battled through all those penalties and we were successful, and we’ll take the two points.”

On the Specialty teams play Sunday (Orlando failed to convert on two 5-3 advantages, killed off two 5-3 disadvantages and a 4 minute double minor in the 2nd period and scored a shorthanded goal:  “It’s not good enough, and we realize that, and we’re gonna work on it.”  (Berehowsky thought I was dogging the power play, but I actually praised the PK in the question, and he brought it up in his previous answer, which forced me to ask the question).

On the reasoning behind the trade for Hunter Fejes:  “He was third or fourth in scoring when we got him.  He’s a natural scorer, he likes to shoot the puck and that’s what we need more of.  We want to be a team that shoots 40 – 50 shots at the net every night and we weren’t doing that, so, he fits the mold of what we want as a team.”

On Nolan Valleau being named to the ECHL All-Star Team:  “I think there’s a lot of things that make him effective.  I’d like to think his skating is probably the thing that separates him from most D men.  He’s got great hockey sense, he sees the ice well, but the thing that impresses me the most about him is his character. He wants to win.  He wants to play the right way, and he wants the team to be successful before any of his own success.

On rating the first half of the season:  “It’s a learning process.  I think we had a lot of new faces.  We had a lot of transition, a lot of guys coming and going, so I’m happy with the success.  At the start of the year, I said this was going to be a process, and it’s a process.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint, we’re heading in the right direction, trending in the right direction.  We’ve just gotta keep pushing the guys make them believe that this is the right way to play.

Hunter Fejes

On joining the Solar Bears, and playing in Florida:  “This is the second time I’ve ever been to Florida, the other time was for vacation.  Having to work here is an unbelievable experience.  We have a great team, great facility, great coaching staff, and I’m happy to be a part of this organization.  I think there’s a lot of a good day to come.“

Describing his own game:  “I would say I’m just a power forward.  A reliable 200 foot player that plays both ends of the rink.  I try to use my assets to my advantage which is my speed, my size and my shot.  I just try to shoot everything, and create havoc in front and crash the net.”

Kale Kerbashian

On his performance in his first game (Shorthanded goal, and an assist):  “It was nice that everybody else played two games in two days, so, I’ve got a little bit fresher legs.  It was good, the team got a win, can’t ask for much more than that.”

On how he came to sign with Orlando:  “I played with the assistant coach John Snowden, I played with Darryl Bootland…I played against a few of them too, so I reached out to a few people, and made it happen.  Yeah, I decided to get away from the Canadian winter.”

His assessment of the current Solar Bears:  “I think it’s just execution.  They’ve got a pretty good team on paper.  I’ve played on a couple of real strong teams, and this one is right up there.  There’s a lot of talent, a lot of skill but think the key word there is team.  If you don’t come together, it doesn’t work out.  It took me a few years to learn that and a lot of them are young, so hopefully we’ll make them learn a little faster than I did.”

On the rivalry with Jacksonville:  “I think I’ve got about three or four old teammates on the other team, they’re all pretty tough; gritty guys.  I knew their roster had a little bit of grit.  We’ve got quite a bit of grit here too, so when those two things come together, it’s usually pretty entertaining.”

Orlando travels to South Carolina this weekend for games Friday against Greenville and Saturday against South Carolina prior to the All-Star break.  They return home January 20th for Military Appreciation weekend with games against Florida on Saturday and Sunday.