ESTERO, FLA – It had been quite a while since Nick Petersen had dressed for the Orlando Solar Bears in game action. Judging by his performance Wednesday night, he was more than anxious to get it going once again.
Petersen scored a goal and added an assist that jump started a sluggish-of-late Solar Bears offense leading to a convincing 5-1 victory over the Florida Everblades at the Germain Arena. Petersen’s energy was matched by teammate Mat Sisca who notched two goals and two assists and goalie John Curry, who made 30 saves – many of them spectacular – to earn the win.
From the opening face-off, Orlando appeared to have benefited from a couple of days of practice as well as having Petersen and Josh Caron, who had been with the Houston Aeros for the better part of a month, back in the lineup. Petersen’s impact was felt early on as he made a brilliant move to get around defenseman Ryan O’Byrne (who would have been playing with the Colorado Avalanche were it not for the NHL lockout) and in on Florida goalie John Muse for an opportunity. Although the shot missed, it was a clear sign that Petersen along with line mates Sisca and Dan Gendur would bear watching all night long.
Petersen’s next chance to score would come just past the eight minute mark of the opening frame and he didn’t miss. The play started with Gendur getting the puck behind the Everblades net. Gendur was able to find Petersen in front and Orlando’s leading scorer put the puck past Muse just inside the left side post.
The Everblades (13-10-1-4) pumped a half dozen shots on Curry in the back half of the period but the Orlando netminder frustrated them at every turn. The frustration would come back to haunt the home team when O’Byrne took a boarding penalty with 44 seconds left in the stanza. The Solar Bears turned it into a goal when Bryce Lampman jammed the puck home out of a goal crease pileup with less than a second to go before the buzzer.
Florida came out in the middle period wanting to get back into the game. Four minutes in, Matt Beca looked like he would have a chance to cut the lead when he broke in alone on Curry. What he didn’t count on was Caron, who was playing defense in the contest, hustled back to take the steam out of Beca’s shot on net. Just under two minutes later, Caron’s effort was rewarded when the Solar Bears increased their lead. Sisca started the sequence by making a pass to the point where Michael Wilson took the puck and drove it at the net. Muse made the save but Michael Neal was on the doorstep to flip the rebound up and over the Everblades netminder for his first score in an Orlando uniform.
The Everblades were able to trim the lead back to two a couple of minutes later when David Rutherford got past two Orlando defensemen during four-on-four play and put a backhander behind Curry for Florida’s first goal of the game. The score lit the fuse of a furious attack by the Everblades that kept Orlando’s Curry on his toes. Beca nearly scored on a wrap-around but Curry was able to get to the post to make the save. Moments later, Rutherford and teammate Mark Stuart came in on an odd-man rush that ended with Stuart ripping a shot that looked like a sure goal to everyone buy Curry who flashed out his glove hand to grab it. By the end of the period, the Everblades had out-shot the Solar Bears 12-6 but because of Curry, Orlando still held a 3-1 lead.
With the game’s outcome still in the balance and a full period left, Orlando needed some extra juice and Sisca gave it to them. Early in the period, the teams found themselves playing four-on-four hockey again with a face-off in the Florida end. The puck went back to Solar Bears defenseman Mike Liambas who shot it at the net. The shot was deflected over the cage to the boards where Sisca went in, dug it out, walked out to the goal line and snuck it between Muse’s pads to push the lead to 4-1.
Later on, Sisca showed off his puck-handling skills by smoothly avoiding several Everblades players at center ice to get himself loose in the Florida defensive end. He made a fake to get Muse to commit low before firing high to the top corner. The rest was left to Curry who held the opposition to two or fewer goals for the eighth time this season.
After a day off, the Solar Bears and Everblades will resume their end-of-year mini-series Friday night at the Germain Arena. Following a Saturday tilt down also down in southwest Florida, the teams will head for the Amway Center in Orlando for two games next week.
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