ESTERO, FLA – A year ago, the Orlando Solar Bears scratched and clawed to win a mere eight games on the road. With an outstanding home record, it was a complete mystery why the team was never comfortable away from the Amway Center.
Friday night at the Germain Arena in Estero, the Solar Bears once again proved that the road woes of the franchise’s inaugural ECHL season are behind them by downing the Florida Everblades 4-3 in a shootout. Mickey Lang netted two goals – one in the pivotal skills competition – and Taylor Matson contributed a goal and an assist as Orlando notched its eighth win in fifteen away contests.
The game also marked the tenth meeting of the in-state rivals. After Orlando’s win, each squad has won five times heading into Saturday night’s rematch that will be the midpoint of the 2013-2014 season for both.
Following yet another week of roster unrest, the Solar Bears (20-12-1-2) were missing both Mike Ullrich who was called up by the Iowa Wild and C.J. Severyn who headed to Utica without having played a single minute since returning from Wilkes-Barre Scranton. Iowa did send Matson back down after a short call-up and added forward Mike Duco back to the lineup as well as Ian Slater who finished his four game suspension.
Matson’s return paid dividends almost immediately as he had his fingerprints all over Orlando’s first two goals. 6:48 into the opening period and during a power play, Matson fed the puck to Blake Kessel. Kessel found a seam in the defense and hit Mickey Lang with a pass. From a tough angle, Lang threaded the needle just inside the post on Florida goalie Scott Stajcer for the game’s first goal.
Less than five minutes later, Matson was at it again. He was in the right place at the right time to grab the rebound of an Eric Baier shot, move to his backhand and lift the puck over Stajcer to give the Solar Bears a two goal advantage.
Florida (21-11-1-2) was far from ready to give the game to the visitors. Given an opportunity when Slater was nabbed for a high sticking double minor, the Everblades got back into the contest. During the first half of the four minute man advantage, recently acquired Philip-Michael Devos fired a shot that Solar Bears goalie Christopher Gibson stopped. Unfortunately for Gibson, the puck slipped from his grasp into the crease where Danick Gauthier got to it and jammed it home.
Gibson didn’t have time to dwell on the Gauthier tally. Seconds after giving up the goal, Gibson had to face Trevor Bruess who was sent in on a clean breakaway. Bruess made a deke then tried to beat the young netmimder with a high shot but Gibson’s glove hand snared the drive to keep his team in front.
Bruess and Gibson had another showdown early in the second period. Sent away on an odd man rush thanks to a Solar Bears turnover, Bruess tried to use his teammate as a decoy but once again Gibson turned Bruess away.
The Orlando goalie wouldn’t be so lucky late in the stanza. With just under five minutes left before the second intermission, former Solar Bear Bryce Lampman fired a shot at the net where it was redirected. The puck hit the post and stayed in the crease where Devos found it and put it into the back of the net to tie the score.
Not to be outdone, the Solar Bears were able to regain the lead before the break. Three minutes after the Devos score, a flurry of Orlando offensive zone pressure turned into a shot that came back into the slot area. Forward Kory Nagy found the puck and wheeled around, sending a backhander through a sea of legs and sticks between Stajcer’s legs for a goal.
Down once again, the Everblades controlled the final frame looking for both the tying and go-ahead goals. Five minutes into the period, they evened the scoreboard when Devos fired a shot from the right wing that was redirected by Mathieu Roy over Gibson’s shoulder. It would prove to be the final goal of both regulation and the five minute overtime period as Gibson (33 saves) and Stajcer (25 saves) dueled their way into the shootout.
In the five-shot extra session, Lang and Duco each beat Stajcer while Gibson stopped Olivier Dame-Malka and Devos to put the Solar Bears in a position to win. Following a perfect third round for the goalies, Gibson stoned Gauthier on a backhander in the fourth round. Mike Catenacci went next for Orlando and put the puck behind Stajcer to seal the win for the visitors.
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