ORLANDO, FLA – Much like closers coming out of the bullpen in baseball, hockey goalies need to have selective memories when it comes to losses. Allowing bad games to affect them on a game-to-game basis can be the quickest way to earn a ticket out of town to the minors. Judging by his performance Tuesday night, Orlando Solar Bears netminder Garret Sparks has figured out exactly how to put bad nights in the rearview mirror.
Coming off his worst performance of his short time in Florida, Sparks made 30 saves to post his first ever professional shutout as the Solar Bears blanked the Greenville Road Warriors 1-0 in front of an announced crowd of 5,617 at the Amway Center. Tyler Murovich’s fifth goal of the season midway through the first period proved to be the only one scored in the contest but it was all Orlando needed thanks to Sparks.
“Saturday night I had a tough night. It was something I took responsibility for because I felt that it was more my fault than the team’s,” Sparks said following his third win in four games. “Coming out here tonight, I just wanted to be more focused, more intense, more on top of things and play a more proactive game rather than sit back and wait to see what would happen. To have the success I did tonight, it’s nice to get back in the win column and put Saturday behind me.”
Getting his fourth start in a row since being assigned to the Solar Bears last week, Sparks knew that his team needed him to step up. The team also knew it had to step up in support of its young goalie after losing by six on the weekend. Orlando (11-6-0-1) showed it was all business from the outset, controlling play for much of the first period and outshooting the Road Warriors 14-6 along the way.
Nine minutes into the stanza, the Solar Bears work ethic and determination got them on the board. The sequence started with the puck going back to the point where Corey Fienhage immediately sent it across to teammate Colton Jobke. Jobke saw a lane and fired a shot that Greenville goalie Connor Knapp stopped but the rebound came out to his left in the crease. Murovich saw it lying there and sold out, diving between two opponents to scoop the puck into the back of the net.
“It was a good shot from the point. I think it (putting shots on net) was something we said we wanted to emphasize, something that you always want to do. I think we wanted to get back to that after an off game in Florida,” Murovich said. “Jobber got the puck to the net and I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I thought all night we got pucks to the net and if you keep getting pucks and bodies there, good things are going to happen.”
The playoff-like playoff struggle continued into the middle frame. Thanks to three power play opportunities, Greenville (7-9-1-1) put up more offense and kept Sparks pretty busy with nine shots on net. The best opportunity the visitors had came when a defensive zone turnover by the Solar Bears set up Michael St. Croix for a chance that Sparks calmly parried away. Down the other end, Knapp (38 saves) was just as tough, handling all eight shots he faced.
The intensity of the game went up several notches in the third. Both ends of the ice became shooting galleries as the teams took turns hemming the other in their defensive zone. Sparks and Knapp continually thwarted opportunities, sometimes in spectacular fashion, to keep things tense.
Sparks did some of his best work in that final stanza. Early on with his team on the power play, he was forced to move quickly to deny Bretton Cameron who was standing alone in the slot when the puck came his way. In the final minutes, Sparks flashed out his left leg pad to knock down a shot from Charlie Dodero that came from the point through traffic.
Orlando’s penalty killers, who gave up three man advantage tallies to Florida on Saturday, had the pressure of having to kill off a late penalty but succeeded with flying colors to cap off a perfect night. Greenville pulled Knapp with just under a minute left but Sparks closed the door on the visitors to earn the win.
After the game, Orlando head coach Vince Williams said he was pleased with how his team responded in the wake of Saturday’s loss.
“I thought it was a great response after the last game where we obviously gave up six goals,” Williams said. “Our PK came up big tonight. Defensively everyone was going and playing the right way. Their goaltender played pretty well too so it was a good game. Obviously they had a push at the end but we managed it and were able to cap it off. It was the type of response we were looking for after giving up six goals on Saturday.”
The two teams will take Wednesday off before meeting again on Thanksgiving evening with puck drop set for 6 pm.
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