ORLANDO, FLA – From the first day he stepped onto the ice at the Amway Center, everyone in the Orlando Solar Bears organization said that Mickey Lang was going to do great things. Thursday night, Lang put his name in the franchise’s ECHL record book with the latest display of just how correct his supporters were.
Lang notched his third hat trick of the season as the Solar Bears got past the Evansville IceMen 5-3 at the Amway Center. The three goals, which included two power play tallies, brought his league leading total to 43 while upping his count during the man advantage to 16 which also is tops in the ECHL.
“He’s solid. Someone’s got to keep an eye on him. He’s obviously a threat every time he’s on the ice,” Orlando head coach Vince Williams said about Lang. “I know sometimes they say that he makes it look easy but he puts himself in position to be able to execute. He had a big night tonight and that’s what we needed.”
Lang’s name is now atop the franchise’s list of most goals scored in a season in the ECHL. The previous mark was set last season by former captain Ryan Cruthers who tallied 23 goals in 71 games. With his three goals on Thursday, Lang brought his total with the Solar Bears to 26 scores in just 30 games played in an Orlando uniform.
Lang’s latest show of brilliance was just what the Solar Bears (39-22-2-2, 82 points) needed after Wednesday’s horrible loss to Cincinnati. Williams had said that he hoped his team would think about how badly it played on Wednesday and refocus its efforts on Thursday’s contest. From the opening faceoff, it was clear that the Solar Bears players had done just that.
Orlando came out much more aggressively than it had the night before and it paid off with a pair of goals in less than a minute eleven minutes into the contest. At the 11:07 mark, Kory Nagy fed the puck to Wade MacLeod at the base of the circle to the right of Evansville goalie Garrett Bartus. MacLeod looked up and sent a pass to the top of the crease where Taylor Matson beat a defender and redirected the puck into the back of the net for his 15th goal of the season. Seconds later, Jake Cepis made a perfect pass across the slot area to a wide open Eric Baier who buried a wrist shot into the top corner past Bartus to give his team a two goal lead.
Evansville (29-26-4-7, 69 points) had a golden opportunity to get on the board late in the period when overlapping Solar Bears penalties gave the IceMen almost a minute of five-on-three power play time. Even though they failed to score, the Icemen did keep up the pressure and finally lit the goal light when Daultan Leveille got control of a loose puck and lifted a shot over the shoulder of Orlando netminder Cody Reichard with less than a second left in the frame.
Lang took over the game in the middle period. Less than two minutes in, Mike Ullrich was able to whack the puck off the boards to the middle of the ice. Using his speed, Lang got to it first and chopped it up and over Bartus to restore the Solar Bears two goal lead. Ullrich also made the key pass on Lang’s first power play goal of the night, putting a feed through the slot from below the goal line to Lang on the back side of the play for a one-timer that rippled the twine.
Lang completed his natural hat trick with 2:28 left before the second intermission on another Orlando man advantage. Playing two men up, the Solar Bears patiently worked the puck around the perimeter of the defense until Lang came open for a wicked slap shot that was behind Bartus in the blink of an eye.
Evansville began to crawl back into the game in the third when a holdover power play turned into a goal for Tristan King at the 23 second mark. When Leveille put a one timer home midway thru the frame, the IceMen were within 5-3 and charging. The Solar Bears defense and Reichard tightened up and despite allowing 19 shots held on for the win.
Afterwards, Lang deflected the spotlight away from himself and onto his teammates who he credits his success for.
“I think I’ve been pretty blessed with the linemates I have. Honestly you can’t score by yourself out there. Nobody can do that. Some of the goals I get are just tap-ins where all I have to do is shoot and hit the net,” he said. “Tonight was another case in point where Ully (Ullrich) made a great pass on the back door and I tapped it in. Cepis is probably the best playmaker in the league. I’ve played with a lot of great players in this league and I don’t think there’s anybody better than him. If it is Matson, I think he’s the hardest worker in the league. Right now we have a lot of talented guys. Go through our list of forwards and it’s pretty special to play with any of those guys.”
The two teams will play again on Saturday night in Orlando.
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