ORLANDO, Fla. – Coming off of an 0-6 road trip that saw them eliminated from playoff contention, the Orlando Solar Bears returned to the Amway Center Wednesday night to start the final homestand of the franchise’s expansion season. Judging by the way the team played, they never should have left home at all.
Forward Rob Mignardi scored two first period goals and goaltender Patrick Killeen stopped 43 shots as the Solar Bears ended their seven-game skid with a resounding 4-0 victory over the Greenville Road Warriors in front of and announced crowd of 5,171 midweek fans. It was one of the best performances of the year for the Orlando squad, although head coach Drake Berehowsky wasn’t quite ready to call it perfect.
“It was pretty close (to the sixty-minute performance). I wasn’t that happy with the third period. I thought we played a hang-on type of period. It’s not the type of period that I like to close out game with,” Berehowsky said. “I thought the guys battled hard and it was fun to watch and it was fun to be a part of. They played a well structured game for the first two periods and we were able to get some goals and we were able to keep rolling from there.”
Getting rolling and staying on a roll has been an on-again, off-again proposition for the Solar Bears (27-33-3-3) for much of the season. Statistically, Orlando came into the contest with a 16-7-0-1 record when scoring first (11-3-0-1 when doing so at home) so hitting the scoreboard first was a must. Just 1:16 into the opening period, Mignardi did just that, grabbing the rebound of a Derick Martin bomb from the left point that Greenville goalie Scott Stajcer had stopped and stuffing it into the back of the net.
“Migsy has been huge for us all year. To see him score right off the bat, it’s great,” Berehowsky said. “I think it puts the guys at ease. Anytime you can go and have the first good five minutes and set the tone, that’s what we always try to do.”
Less than four minutes later, Killeen was called upon to make a key save on Greenville’s Brendan Connolly who had a golden opportunity to tie the score. The Solar Bears took advantage of the defensive play and upped the lead to two. Mignardi was once again in the right place at the right time as Justin Levac’s
Pass around the boards took a bounce out to the slot where Mignardi was waiting to snap a wrist shot past Stajcer. It was Mignardi’s eleventh goal of the season, making him just the second Solar Bear currently on the active roster with double digit goals.
“After six (in fact seven) losses in a row, you definitely want to get the lead early, just get that confidence and that good feeling,” Mignardi said. “To score on my first shift definitely gave our line and our team confidence. It’s tough to do that every game but definitely the mentality is to go out there and get a good start.”
Greenville (35-25-2-6) continued to throw rubber at Killeen, keeping the Pittsburgh Penguins draftee busy. By the midpoint of the second period, the Road Warriors had built a 23-17 shot advantage but had no luck in solving Orlando’s netminder.
The turning point of the game came in the final five minutes of the stanza. With Orlando rookie Ryan Berard and Greenville’s Jordie Johnston off with matching penalties, Solar Bear defenseman Eddie Levens went to the box to give the Road Warriors a four-on-three power play. As Berard and Johnston returned to the ice, Martin got the puck and fed a perfect pass to Berard who made a beeline into the Greenville defensive zone. When eh got into the left face-off circle, Berard let loose with a hard shot that beat Stajcer just inside the far post. The tally was the eighth short-handed goal for the Solar Bears on the season and Berard’s first goal on home ice.
There was still time left in the second and Orlando took advantage to put one more tally on the board. It came with 1:26 left before the intermission when Derrick Burnett, who was resigned by the Solar Bears this week, made a sweep behind the Greenville net before putting a perfect pass on the stick of Michael Wilson in the slot. Wilson wasted no time, whistling a shot into the net to give the home team a commanding four goal lead heading to the third frame.
All that was left was to get the shutout for Killeen, who was looking for his first ECHL
whitewashing in a jersey other than that of the Wheeling Nailers. With the home crowd behind him and following a spirited throw down between Levens and Greenville’s Sean Berkstresser, Killeen got stronger and stronger with each successive stop. He robbed Berkstresser with 2:41 left to keep the shutout in tact and finished the night with 43 saves, setting the season high for saves in an Orlando shutout win.
“Whenever you get to make saves early, you just start feeling the puck. I saw everything pretty well today. Our defense played great and kept the pucks to the outside,” Killeen said. “I was getting a little worried (that) I wasn’t going to get one this year so it feels good to finally get one.”
The two teams will be back at it Thursday night at the Amway Center in the season series finale. Game time is 7 p.m.
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