READING, Pa. – With a week and several hundred miles of travel between meetings, the Orlando Solar Bears hoped that some roster changes would alter their luck against the Reading Royals. As it turned out, the changes they really needed were ones that were out of their control.
For the third time in as many games, Royals goalie Riley Gill held the fort while veteran forward Yannick Tifu was finding the back of the net as Reading blanked Orlando 3-0 in front of 4,271 fans at the Sovereign Center Friday night. The loss was a damaging one for the Solar Bears who find themselves thirteen points out of the final Eastern conference playoff spot with twelve games left in the regular season.
The week had already been a tough one for Orlando (26-29-2-3) with the news that leading scorer Mat Sisca would miss the rest of the season with an injury followed by a trade that saw forward Ryan Ginand head to Gwinnett for future considerations. With head coach Drake Berehowsky deciding to deactivate Mike Sgroi and Edward Levens for the contest, it allowed him to bring in two new players, defenseman Michael Jordan (who had been in the Solar Bears training camp in October) and forward Michael Lysyj out of SUNY-Cortland, to suit up.
Because of a quirk in the scheduling, Orlando and Reading were meeting for the third consecutive time, turning things quickly into a best-of-three miniseries. Just as it had been in the two games in Orlando, the goaltending match-up was Gill against Solar Bears netminder Zoltan Hetenyi with Friday’s winner taking two out of the three games.
The opening period was all about the men between the pipes. Hetenyi and Gill looked like they were headed for another epic battle similar to the 1-0 win grabbed by Hetenyi and the Solar Bears on February 28th. Neither netminder gave an inch as each stopped eight shots in the first stanza to keep the scoreboard clear.
The battle continued into the second period as the goalies continued to shine. First Hetenyi went post-to-post to rob Stanislav Galiev of a sure goal. Moments later, Gill stole one from Ryan Cruthers on a second chance opportunity by Orlando’s captain.
Reading (38-17-3-3) broke the scoreless tie at the 6:08 mark of the frame. Ethan Cox got the puck down low, looking for a teammate to feed. At that moment, Julien Cayer got loose at the top of the crease where Cox found him for a one-timer into the back of the net.
Five minutes later, the Royals got their second power play chance of the game and made the visitors pay. Thirteen seconds into the man advantage, Tifu skated the puck to the top of the right circle and ripped a shot that beat Hetenyi thru a screen. It was Tifu’s fourth goal in less than five periods against the Solar Bears and fifth overall in four meetings between the two teams.
Berehowsky’s troops came out in the third period looking to get back into the game. Gill would have none of it, turning back every Solar Bears shot that came his way. Orlando’s best opportunity to break up the shutout came on a power play late in the period but the Royals kept the visitors from getting any good looks. Reading sealed the victory when Nikita Kashirsky scored an empty net goal in the final minute to produce the final score.
Orlando’s trek up north continues on Saturday when the Solar Bears head to Elmira to face the Jackals. The two teams have split a pair of contests this season with the home team winning each time. Puck drop at the First Arena is set for 7:05 p.m.
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