Solar Bears bitten late, fall in shootout

ORLANDO, FLA – Earlier this season, the Orlando Solar Bears thought they had a home victory locked up only to see the opposing team tie the game in the final ten seconds of regulation before losing in a shootout. Wednesday night at the Amway Center, the Solar Bears suffered a case of déjà vu.
Greenville Road Warrior forward Marc-Olivier Vallerand scored with 1.1 seconds, setting the stage for Jordie Johnston to win the game on the final shootout attempt to give Greenville a 4-3 win in front of 5,086 fans. The result muted a big night for the Orlando special teams units and a two-goal effort by Michael Neal. It also ruined a 36-save start by Solar Bears goalie Patrick Killeen who was making his first appearance in front of the home fans.

Orlando center Ryan Cruthers (16%2C left) and goalie Patrick Killeen keep the puck away from Greenville%27s Bretton Cameron (Photo courtesy of Orlando Solar Bears).

Orlando center Ryan Cruthers (16%2C left) and goalie Patrick Killeen keep the puck away from Greenville%27s Bretton Cameron (Photo courtesy of Orlando Solar Bears).

“We didn’t protect the house. We let them (Greenville) into the house. We gave them the middle ice and you’re supposed to protect the middle ice,” Orlando head coach Drake Berehowsky said. “We should have kept the puck to the outside and it was unfortunate that we got a little too aggressive. Guys want to hit guys and they want to be able to break up plays. At certain points you have to understand that protecting the house is a little more important than trying to go out and make a hit.”
The game-tying tally was all effort on both ends of the play. Brendan Connolly carried the puck into the Orlando end, weaving through several Solar Bears defenders. As he did that, Vallerand sped toward Killeen and the Orlando net, putting himself in position to redirect Connolly’s pass between Killeen’s legs. In the shootout, Connolly and Orlando’s Chris Lawrence traded goals on the third and fifth shots for their teams before Johnston buried a wrist shot into the back of the net
Killeen got the start in net because Orlando’s number one starter, John Curry, sustained an undisclosed injury over the weekend in South Carolina. Killeen, who was reassigned by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton from Wheeling last Thursday, had a tough time in his first start on the road but played much better Wednesday.
“I felt a lot more comfortable in the net tonight. I was just coming back from an injury and didn’t the ice too much before the last game,” Killeen said. “Obviously it (Saturday’s game) wasn’t a great outing but I thought I did a good job tonight. I felt pretty comfortable out there.”
Killeen was moving confidently throughout the first period, stopping everything headed his way. While he was blanking the visitors, the Solar Bears got the power play going. At the 11:51 mark of the first, Alain Goulet ripped a shot from the top of the near circle that Neal deflected past Greenville goalie Scott Stajcer to put Orlando on top. It was the only goal of the stanza.
“I’ve known him since his junior days in Brampton – I coached him there. We know he’s a good goalie. He’s just got to get his timing back. I thought he played a real good game tonight,” Berehowsky said about Killeen. “He gave us a chance to win. If we didn’t make some of our silly mistakes again, we might have been able to pull it out.”
With penalties to both sides coming fast and furious (the teams combined for 17 power play opportunities), play was choppy in the second. Greenville (28-15-2-2) was able to tie the game at the 13:52 mark of the middle period thanks to a bit of luck. Lee Baldwin tracked down the puck along the boards and fired a shot at Killeen. The Solar Bears’ netminder made the save but the rebound hopped up, hit a defenseman on the leg and popped into the net.
The Road Warriors then took advantage of one of the miscues that Berehowsky talked about to gain the lead. What was supposed to be a clearing pass through the middle by the Solar Bears went right to Brandon Wong who walked in along and whistled a shot between Killeen’s right pad and blocker at 16:32 of the stanza.
Orlando (19-22-2-3) regrouped at the intermission and came out determined to regain control of things in the third. Given the man advantage a minute into the period, the Solar Bears capitalized when Alain Goulet’s shot from the point missed the mark but got a great bounce off the end boards. The puck came back above the goal line where Neal was able to lift it over Stajcer to knot the score at two.
For Goulet, who was playing in his seventh game with Orlando, the two assists he picked up in the game (the first coming on Neal’s tally in the first period) represented his first points in a Solar Bears uniform.
“It felt great to get a couple of points. I’ve been struggling a bit with luck this year with points,” Goulet said. “It’s nice to finally get a couple.”
Four minutes later, the Orlando power play struck again with captain Ryan Cruthers playing a key role. Cruthers won a key face-off in the Greenville end back to Ryan Blair at the point. Blair wound up and blasted a drive that Cruthers redirected home to restore the Solar Bears lead at 3-2 with just under thirteen and a half minutes to play. For Cruthers, it extended his consecutive games with a goal streak to five.
The Road Warriors refused to give up, keeping the Orlando defense and Killeen busy. It set the stage for Vallerand to get the goal that evened the game and sent it to overtime. In the extra period, the Solar Bears got an opportunity to win it when Greenville took a penalty 32 seconds in. The man advantage failed to score and a subsequent Road Warriors power play also came up empty. With just over a minute left, Killeen had to make a clutch glove save on Mike Marcou to keep the contest going.
Greenville took the lead in the shootout on its third shot when Connolly roofed a shot to the top corner on Killeen’s glove side. After each team failed on shot number four, the Solar Bears’ Lawrence swooped in from right to left across the crease, waiting for Stajcer to commit before lifting the puck over the goalie. Lawrence’s score set the scene for Johnston to end the game.
The two teams will get a day off on Thursday before facing each other again on Friday night at the Amway Center. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.
Contact the author at don.money@prohockeynews.com

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