EVANSVILLE, IND – in the short ECHL history of the Orlando Solar Bears, winning on the road has been an issue. Last year, victories away from the Amway Center were few and far between. Along the way there were plenty of losses where late game magic happened for the home team.
Friday night at the Ford Center, Mike Ullrich tied the game with just over a minute left in regulation and David Rutherford and Zach Harrison scored in the shootout as the Solar Bears edged the Evansville Icemen 5-4 in front of an announced crowd of 4,315. The win was Orlando’s fifth consecutive overall and maybe more importantly a franchise record third straight on the road.
Trailing by one with time ticking down, C.J. Severyn had the puck on his stick. He passed it to Francis Verreault-Paul on the left wing as Ullrich made a beeline toward the Evansville net. Verreault-Paul then fired a pass that Ullrich reached with his stick, redirecting it just inside the right post past Icemen netminder Mike Clemente.
Following an uneventful overtime period, Rutherford opened the shootout by snapping a shot to the top corner behind Clemente. In the fourth round, Harrison snuck a shot inside the left goal post to put the visitors up by two. Solar Bears goalie John Curry then finished off the win by stopping Evansville’s Nathan Moon on the Icemen’s fourth attempt. Curry stopped all four shots he faced to run his shootout record this season to eight saves on nine shots against.
Orlando (8-4-0-1) entered the game knowing it would have its hands full with an Evansville team that had lost just once in regulation and once in a shootout in its first eight contests. The visitors had to think it might be a long night when an early defensive zone turnover quickly turned into an Icemen goal when Matt Schepke’s shot from the left wing broke thru Curry and trickled across the goal line just 1:17 into the opening period.
It took just over three minutes for the Solar Bears to respond and tie the score. Some hard fore checking pressure from Severyn forced an Evansville turnover with the puck going right to Verreault-Paul. He quickly fired a shot that found its way inside the left post and in.
The Solar Bears took their only lead of regulation time at the 11:34 mark of the stanza when Bryce Aneloski fed Rutherford who wired a shot to the top right corner of the net. It proved to be the final goal of the first period and set the stage for a wild opening to the second.
Early in the middle frame, Orlando went on the power play but as it turned out it was an advantage for the Icemen. A strange bounce of the puck into the neutral zone allowed Evansville to get a two-on-one break on which Josh Beaulieu put a shot to the top shelf past Curry. Not too long after that, Jeremy Langlois blocked a shot, creating a clean breakaway for himself. He too found a way to beat Curry, giving the Icemen two short-handed goals on the same penalty kill and a 3-2 lead.
Undaunted by the turn of events, the Solar Bears dug in and found a way to even the score. During a four-on-four situation, defenseman Colton Jobke took a pass from teammate Corey Fienhage and fired a shot that found its way thru traffic and in. It was the young defender’s first professional goal and second point in as many games.
The game stayed tied until the 8:47 mark of the third period when Matt Krug, brother of Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, threw a pass to the front of the Orlando net that caromed off a defenseman’s skate and in. Evansville (6-1-0-2) tightened up its defense around Clemente, looking to give head coach Jeff Pyle his 453rd career ECHL win but the visitors had other ideas.
Orlando pushed for the equalizer, missing out on one opportunity when a shot by Rutherford was tracked down by Clemente midway thru the frame. Head coach Vince Williams was in the process of pulling Curry for an extra attacker when with 1:13 left in regulation the line combination of Severyn, Verreault-Paul and Ullrich found a way to send the game to overtime.
The two teams will finish off the weekend set with a rematch Saturday night at the Ford Center. Game time is set for 7:15 pm central time.
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