ORLANDO, FLA – Coaches throughout the history of sports have struggled with the age old question about whether too much rest or playing too much is more detrimental to a team. Is it easier to overcome some rust or not having as much gas in the proverbial tank is usually the second item asked about by fans and media alike.
Sunday night at the Amway Center, the Greenville Road Warriors proved that at least on this occasion playing through tired legs can trump rest as they scored three unanswered goals in the final twenty-three minutes to defeat the Orlando Solar Bears 3-2. The win in front of an announced crowd of 6,318 gave the Road Warriors a three-game weekend sweep of the state of Florida while keeping the host Solar Bears from gaining any ground in the ECHL’s South division.
“I thought we could been (played) a lot harder in the sense of just our engagement and our battles – just harder in all areas and facets of the game. You can’t let up for a second,” Orlando head coach Vince Williams said following the disappointing defeat. “Really what they got we gave them basically. They worked for it no question but we gave it to them.”
With a reprise of the November 26th goaltending matchup between Orlando’s Garret Sparks and Greenville’s Connor Knapp that resulted in a 2-0 Solar Bears win, both sides knew that goals would be at a premium. That certainly was the case for most of the opening period as the netminders stole the show. The Solar Bears had the better of the play through the first twelve minutes, keeping Knapp plenty busy. Sparks was the star of the last eight minutes, scrambling to get to every shot he could including a sterling eight save stretch during a Greenville power play.
Orlando (15-11-0-1) finally broke the ice in the final minute with one of the prettiest and most difficult goals of the season. The play began with Scott Tanski making an aerial pass from the right wing boards toward the center of the ice. Tyler Murovich, who was obviously Tanski’s target as he busted toward the net, got his stick on the puck at waist level and redirected it past Knapp.
“We wanted to use our speed and just get to the net, especially early because I think when you have a week off like that the thing you want to emphasize most is your habits and kind of getting into the game. To do that, you want to do the simple things – make hard plays to get the pucks in and out at the blue lines and get to the net,” Murovich said. “We kind of had that mindset that we were going to go (to the net). Tanner threw it across, just a little lob. I don’t know if he was just trying to get it on the pads or what but I worked on tips a lot today so I think that helped.”
Sparks (35 saves) continued to spin maybe his best performance of the season, holding the Road Warriors (12-13-1-1) at bay as the contest approached the eight minute mark of the second. His teammates gave him more help at that point when Ian Slater and Andrew Johnston worked the puck along the boards back to Michael Catenacci who was coming off the bench into the attacking zone. Catenacci walked the puck into the faceoff circle and let loose with a quick wrist shot that beat Knapp high to the blocker side.
“I got the puck on the boards and I thought I had room to my left so I cut to my left and I had a whole lane,” Catenacci said. “Honestly I just tried to shoot it because there were a bunch of bodies in front of the net so I shot and luckily it went in.”
It took almost ten more minutes for Greenville to finally solve Sparks. It came at the 17:10 mark of the stanza when the Road Warriors broke into the Orlando end on an odd man rush. Andrew Rowe dropped the puck across the high slot to Brayden Irwin who was the trailer on the play. Irwin whipped a shot from the slot through a little bit of traffic that sailed past Sparks over his shoulder and just under the crossbar.
Greenville carried the momentum over into the third and it paid off with the game-tying score 6:43 in. Brett Perlini found a way to slip the puck to Marc-Olivier Vallerand who was standing just outside the crease. Vallerand took three shots in quick succession that Sparks stopped while the tough winger crept even closer. On the third shot, the rebound hopped over the stick of Vallerand, who by this time was in the blue paint along with a Solar Bears defender. Mike Marcou was able to corral the puck and pop it through the sea of legs and Sparks into the back of the net.
Down the other end of the ice, Knapp (28 saves) had settled into a groove, stopping everything that was coming his way. It helped that the Solar Bears were having a problem generating offense even with a full two minutes of power play time and more than a minute and a half of a second man advantage.
The deciding score came with just 3:11 to go in regulation. Irwin put a long shot on net that Sparks stopped. Unfortunately he failed to gain full control of the rebound and Rowe swooped in to poke the loose puck home.
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