ORLANDO, FLA – When Mickey Lang arrived in Orlando from Fort Wayne, he brought with him the most goals scored in the ECHL to that point in the season. Twelve games into his time in a Solar Bears uniform, his reputation as a pure sniper hasn’t been hurt at all – in fact he is becoming a legend in the eyes of central Florida hockey fans.
Saturday night at the Amway Center, Lang finished off an epic week by scoring both the game-tying and game-winning goals as the Solar Bears came back to defeat the Gwinnett Gladiators 5-4 in overtime in front of an announced crowd of 8,758. Lang’s two goals brought his total for the week to seven and his season mark to 29, 12 of those for Orlando.
More importantly, the victory gave the Solar Bears (28-16-1-2) a ten game win streak at home – including a clean five game sweep on the latest home stand – and kept Orlando in possession of third place in the Eastern conference.
“(With) 8,000 people here tonight, you want to send them home with a win and something to come back with,” Lang said about the win.
Lang’s game-winning tally came thanks to a rare overtime power play opportunity when Gwinnett’s Joey Haddad was nabbed for high sticking in the offensive end. The Solar Bears took full advantage of the four-on-three advantage when Cody Wild worked the puck to Lang in the circle to the right side of Gladiators goalie Scott Stajcer. With an open lane to shoot, Lang wound up and got everything into a blast that beat Stajcer clean on the near side.
Needless to say, were it not for Lang’s tying score with nine seconds left in regulation, the extra period wouldn’t have happened. As the visitors held on in a desperate attempt to win, Jake Cepis sent the puck toward the net along the goal line. It deflected off C.J. Severyn’s skate to Taylor Matson who sensing Lang’s presence quickly backhanded a pass to the slot right to his teammate. Lang wasted no time in planting a one-timer into the back of the net that brought the entire crowd to its feet and nearly blew the roof off the nearly half-billion dollar building.
“Matson was probably the best player on the ice in every game this week,” Lang said about Matson’s part in the tying goal. “He made a great pass. The goalie was out and I just shot it far side and it went in.”
Partially lost in the excitement of Lang’s effort was goalie Cody Reichard’s game saving play with just over three minutes left in regulation. In the blink of an eye after making a save, Reichard made a spectacular diving stop on a shot by Gwinnett’s Bobby Hughes who was standing alone in front and looking at a wide open net. It was one of 37 saves he made in the game but it was clearly his most important one.
“The game changer for us I think for me was the Reichard save. The glove save there changes it all,” Orlando head coach Vince Williams said. “That just kind of got everybody going.”
For the second night in a row, Gwinnett (18-27-2-2) made things very difficult on the home team. Marshall Everson staked the Gladiators to an early lead 2:43 into the contest when he converted the rebound of a point shot, putting a backhanded over Reichard. Orlando’s response came late in the opening frame when Matson scooped a pass off the wing from Tyler Murovich home.
The Gladiators exploded for two tallies in a little over two minutes in the second period to silence the home crowd. Evan Bloodoff took a feed from Everson and put a shot on Reichard that the netminder stopped. Bloodoff followed the shot, collected the rebound and knuckleballed it between Reichard’s legs at the 9:27 mark to put Gwinnett ahead. Everson then scored his second of the game, again off a rebound, to push the lead to 3-1.
The Solar Bears began their comeback at the 13:56 mark when Wild was in the right place at the right time to bat an aerial puck into the net after it kicked off the end boards. They then evened the score on a late power play goal when Connor Goggin found just enough room to feed a pass to Matson who beat Stajcer with a shot for his second goal of the game.
Gwinnett regained the lead just before the midpoint of the final frame when Haddad fed Dirk Southern who whistled a shot over Reichard’s left shoulder. The Gladiators appeared to have the Solar Bears beaten as they continually frustrated Orlando’s offense down the stretch, even killing off a late penalty to Bloodoff. Luck seemed to be on their side when Severyn missed a sure goal while all alone in front but the Solar Bears had an ace up their sleeves in Lang.
“From a character standpoint, given the schedule of four (games) in five (days), it was a heck of a way to end it. We needed to grease it out, grind it out and we did,” Williams said. “We came back twice and capitalized and executed when we needed to execute. At the end of the day, we needed those two points bad. It puts us in a good spot going into next week on the road.”
Follow us on Twitter @prohockeynews