NORTH CHARLESTON, SC – The Orlando Solar Bears may be an expansion team but they sure are becoming proficient at one thing: playing extra hockey.
The majority of the game was a defensive struggle and goaltending battle between Morrison, a Boston Bruins prospect, and Orlando’s John Curry, who was a draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The two went at it, matching save for save through the early stages of the opening period.
Just past the midpoint of the stanza, Morrison was the first to blink but it was a product of a perfect play. Fortier found himself with the puck at the right point and let go with a low, hard drive. Medvec beat a defender to the slot and deflected the Fortier shot past Morrison to give Orlando the lead.
Down the other end, Curry – who had not played since the previous Thursday at home against South Carolina – looked sharp. His teammates were also on their game defensively, blocking shots and keeping the host Stingrays from getting rebounds.
The second period was all Solar Bears as they pummeled Morrison with 13 shots but the young netminder stood his ground and kept Orlando off the scoreboard. Curry was far less busy, facing just four South Carolina shots as the visitors clamped down on defense.
Thanks to an early Orlando penalty, the Stingrays generated more offense at the start of the third but Curry held the fort. As the clock ticked into the final minutes of regulation, it looked like the Solar Bears would record their first ECHL shutout but it was not to be. A penalty with 1:44 remaining gave South Carolina one last shot with the man advantage and they made Orlando pay. With a mass of humanity in front of Curry, Mike Hamilton was able to snap off a wrist shot that found its way through the legs and sticks and beat Curry to send the game to overtime.
South Carolina had the better of the play in the extra period, squeezing off four shots that Curry handled easily. Morrison (31 saves on 32 shots) didn’t have to make a save during the sudden death stanza but because of Curry’s work, the contest went to penalty shots.
Like he had in the Solar Bears’ 12-round shootout win two weeks prior, Curry had skill and luck on his side. Morrison and Matthew Pistilli both caught iron on their shootout shots but neither one went in. Orlando’s Mathew Sisca, who was celebrating his birthday Tuesday, put the Solar Bears ahead with a goal in the third round but that was answered by South Carolina’s Andrew Cherniwchan in the fourth round. Neither team scored in round five so the shootout went on.
McNeely excited the home crowd when he beat Curry (30 saves on 31 shots) to start round six but Fortier tucked a backhander behind Morrison to keep Orlando alive. Neither team scored in round seven and Curry made a pad save on Stingray forward Alden Hirschfeld to start round eight, setting the stage for Medvec to win the game.
The victory allowed Orlando (4-1-1-1) to regain the top spot in the South Division, one point ahead of the Gwinnett Gladiators. The two teams will face off in a key early-season game Thursday night in Gwinnett.
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