DULUTH, GA – A year ago, the Orlando Solar Bears were by their own admission not a very good team on the road. Over the course of the franchise’s inaugural ECHL season, it struggled to win games away from the cozy confines of the Amway Center and finished with just eight victories. So far this season however, the bus trip blues have been replaced with the sounds of wins.
Sunday afternoon at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, five different Solar Bears scored goals and nine recorded points as Orlando soundly defeated the Gwinnett Gladiators 5-2 in front of an announced crowd of 5,858. The victory was the Solar Bears sixth away from home and allowed them to gain some ground on first place South Carolina which lost to Greenville.
In four road trips of at least two games in length, Orlando (15-10-0-1) has failed to earn a split or take two of three games just once. In the last nine games not played at the Amway Center, the Solar Bears are 6-3 which is a far cry from last season’s woes. A great deal of the credit has gone to the goaltending, especially John Curry who Sunday picked up his fifth road win with a 26 save performance.
The first period was a fairly quiet twenty minutes of play as the two teams combined for a total of twelve shots on net. The Solar Bears scored the lone goal of the stanza just before the midway mark when Scott Tanski, who had redirected in a pair of tallies on Friday, was perfectly positioned to take a pass from Ian Slater and rip a shot past Gwinnett goalie Matt Cooper at the 9:26 mark. It was Tanski’s sixth goal of the season and fourth in his last four games.
As the middle period began, no one had any idea that it would resemble Friday night’s shootout in Greenville. It started just 24 seconds in when Sacha Guimond carried the puck into the Orlando defensive zone and zipped the puck between Curry’s legs to tie the score. Just over two minutes later, Maxime Legault converted the rebound of a Devon Krogh shot by jamming it home at the far post. The score at the 2:36 mark gave the Gladiators their only lead of the contest.
Orlando was far from being intimidated and responded with two quick tallies of its own. Zach Harrison and Michael Catenacci were front and center on both goals as Harrison redirected a shot by Catenacci past Cooper at the 3:55 mark for his eighth goal to even the score at two. On the next shift, Harrison forced a turnover that Catenacci turned into his first goal as a Solar Bear at 5:03 to put Orlando ahead for good.
Catenacci’s score was the end of the game for Cooper as Gwinnett head coach Rick Emmett replaced him with Andrew Loewen who had been called up from the SPHL’s Columbus Cottonmouths just hours before the game. Loewen held the Solar Bears off the board until the 16:48 mark when Jacob Cepis dragged the puck through the slot and put a backhander into the twine to increase the visitors lead to 4-2.
Gwinnett (7-15-0-2) continued to play hard but Orlando put a stranglehold on the game early in the third period. A handful of seconds before the three minute mark, Blake Kessel worked the puck to Tyler Murovich who powered the puck into the back of the net.
The Gladiators had three power play opportunities in the final frame but Orlando’s penalty killing units, which had been somewhat mortal of late, and Curry kept Gwinnett from getting any closer than three scores.
Catenacci, Harrison, Slater and Andrew Johnston all finished the game with two points each to pace Orlando’s balanced attack. The Solar Bears will next play on December 22 when they start a six game home stand against the Greenville Road Warriors.
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