ORLANDO, FLA – For just about the entire month of November, the Amway Center was a den of horrors for teams who dared to challenge the Orlando Solar Bears in their home. Wednesday night, a team from the west with a mile high’s worth of confidence showed everyone that the den wasn’t such a terrifying place.
Boosted by three unanswered goals, the Colorado Eagles made their first visit to the City Beautiful a memorable one with a 3-1 victory over the Solar Bears in front of an announced crowd of 4,662. The visitors win snapped the Solar Bears season-high six game home winning streak and kept the hosts from retaking sole possession of third place in the Eastern conference.
“We lost a lot of one-on-one battles. (We) got out outworked which pretty much summed up most of the game,” Orlando head coach Vince Williams said. “I thought they outworked us and had more second effort. We worked hard at times and then not and in between. It wasn’t good enough.”
The first ever meeting between the two ECHL teams had plenty to offer with the South division’s third place squad taking on the Mountain division’s top team. Statistically the teams were about as even as you can get, setting the stage for what was expected to be a good matchup.
Orlando (12-7-0-1) got on the board before the game was five minutes old. Playing on a power play, Mike Ullrich got the puck to Mike Duco, who was playing in his first game since being assigned to the Solar Bears by Toronto. Duco’s shot was blocked but Blake Kessel read the play, coming in from the point to grab the loose puck and whip a wrist shot past Eagles goalie Marc Cheverie.
Down the other end of the ice, Solar Bears netminder Garret Sparks, who was playing in his sixth consecutive game, was once again handling things. As Colorado began to get its offensive bearings, the rookie goalie was ready for every shot. Over the final ten minutes of the first period, Sparks stopped seven of the visitors’ twelve opening frame shots to keep Orlando ahead at the intermission.
Colorado (12-4-3-0) came close to tying the game early in the middle stanza when during a penalty kill, Riley Nelson stole the puck in the Orlando end and wired a shot that caught the outside of the far post after it got past Sparks. As the period went on, the Eagles began to outplay their hosts and it would pay off in a big way.
At the 14:09 mark, Greg Gardner and Dylan Hood found themselves in a mini odd-man situation in the Solar Bears end. Gardner found a way to get the puck to Hood who scooped a backhander from in tight to tie the score.
Less than two minutes later, Colorado was pressing the Orlando defense once again when Hood sent a pass back to Jason Beatty at the point. Beatty, who had taken two penalties earlier in the contest, redeemed himself with the Eagles coaching staff by skating into the slot area and firing a shot through traffic and into the back of the net.
The home crowd was hoping for a big third period from the Solar Bears but Colorado took much of the steam out of the fans with an early score. The play started when the Eagles turned a defensive play into a three-on-two break. Luke Fulghum carried the puck into the Orlando end before passing it to Jesse Mychan who was cruising into the faceoff circle. Mychan got to within fifteen feet of the net and put a wrister just inside the right post at the 3:50 mark to put the Eagles up by two.
Colorado’s defense took the game over from there, minimizing Orlando’s chances and nullifying any potential for rebound chances. The Eagles’ penalty killers came up big when the Solar Bears went on the power play with just under seven minutes left in regulation, allowing just one shot on the man advantage.
Williams pulled Sparks (29 saves) with more than two minutes to go but even with the extra skater, the Solar Bears could not beat Cheverie who finished the night with 36 saves.
With a pair of games against the South division leading South Carolina Stingrays coming on Friday and Saturday before Colorado makes a return visit on Sunday, the loss was not the tone that Williams wanted his team to set. He said that his squad will need to improve on several things in order to compete with the best team in the conference.
“(We need to be) working harder and smarter. We worked at times hard but just not smart. Then all of a sudden when it starts to get to a point where everyone’s forcing it, you get one guy trying to do everything and it becomes everyone trying to compensate for everybody else,” he said. “The best way to get through it is to work. Work and move on because we’ve got three big games coming up this weekend.”
Follow us on Twitter @prohockeynews