ORLANDO, FLA – Prior to Thursday night’s game at the Amway Center, Orlando Solar Bears forward Jake Cepis was named as the team’s “pest of the month” for March because of how he bugged and bothered opponents with goals and assists. Judging by the way he took over the game, the Greenville Road Warriors might have been better served if they had used fly swatters rather than hockey sticks.
Cepis scored two goals, including the game winner, to reach the 20-goal mark for the second time in his professional career and give Orlando a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Greenville in front of an enthusiastic announced crowd of 9,082. Because of Cepis’ effort, the Solar Bears moved back into sole possession of fourth place in the ECHL’s Eastern conference playoff race.
“It’s hard to get goals at any level you play hockey. I think it’s a good accomplishment,” Cepis said about reaching the goal plateau. “The biggest thing is obviously that we got the two points to win the game. It’s nice to score goals and help the team out. For the most part we played a good game today. I’m just happy about that really.”
The ease with which Cepis hustled and skated circles around the Road Warriors (39-25-2-4, 84 points) was certainly not a true indicator of just how difficult a game it was for Orlando to win. Greenville, which is still looking to improve its playoff position as well as possibly steal the South division crown, bedeviled the home team throughout the contest by hanging tough and staying within earshot of taking the game to overtime down to the very last second.
Orlando (42-24-2-2, 88 points) found itself having to dig out of an early deficit when just 3:08 into the opening period, Greenville’s Ryan Hegarty got the puck in the high slot and unloaded a bomb that beat Solar Bears goalie Max Clermont thru a screen. When Andrew Rowe, the Road Warriors leading scorer, picked up a loose puck in the slot and deposited a wrist shot into the back of the net at the 13:34 mark, grumbling could be heard from the large crowd.
Response has been a key word in the vocabulary of Solar Bears head coach Vince Williams all season long. Once again his team found a way to answer back before the end of a period to get back into the game. It came when Taylor Matson went into the corner against two Greenville defenders and came out with the puck. He fed it to the slot where Mickey Lang took it, drew netminder Jeff Malcolm to him and quickly slid it to Cepis who hit the wide open net.
“They’ve (Cepis, Lang and Matson) been solid. They’re very talented players. They can all make plays,” Williams said about his top line. “Those goals they scored started with finishing a check on a forecheck. Even Langer who has forty-something goals is finishing checks. He’s in a situation where he creates turnovers by just forechecking hard and taking the body. The biggest thing is when they play gritty and they play hard, the rest will come. They create their own space by their ability to be tenacious on the puck.”
The Solar Bears continued to pump rubber at Malcolm in the second, outshooting the Road Warriors for the second straight frame. They scored the lone goal of the period thanks to some heads up play from defenseman Connor Goggin. Goggin stepped up into the play to intercept an attempted clearing pass by Greenville. Having beaten two Road Warriors to the puck, he had plenty of room to walk in and fire a laser that Malcolm could not get enough of to keep it out of the net. The goal was the eighth of the season for Goggin and his fourth in the last ten games.
“I always try to help out at the offensive end of the ice as much as I can,” Goggin said. “I don’t think I’m really doing much different. I still play defense first and then when I get my opportunities, I try to take advantage and they’re just going in right now.”
Lang and Cepis teamed up six minutes into the final period to put the Solar Bears ahead to stay. Lang went into the corner and separated a defender from the puck with a stiff hit. Cepis grabbed the puck, swung around the net and when Malcolm dipped his left shoulder away from the post, Cepis hit the open space with a perfect shot.
Greenville had a golden opportunity to tie the game in the final minutes when an Orlando penalty gave the Road Warriors a power play. With a minute to go and still on the man advantage, Malcolm was pulled for an extra attacker. Clermont, who recovered after the first period to make twenty saves in the game, and the Solar Bears defense clamped down to hold on for the win.
“He came up big when he needed to,” Williams said about Clermont.
Orlando now gets to sit and watch Friday’s scoreboard before hitting the ice again on Saturday again the Reading Royals. Cepis said that in the wake of the Solar Bears loss to the Royals last week, he and his teammates need to let Reading know that Orlando will be a team to be reckoned with.
“Not to take any credit away from them because they’re a good team too but we did a lot of dumb things in that game. We were winning the game going into the third period and we just collapsed,” Cepis said. “I think our team grew from it. Like Vinny (Coach Williams) said to the team we’re not sitting back and hoping we win. We’re going to go for it. There is no let’s just play and see what happens. We’re going to go after them and we’re going to try to send a message.”
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