Solar Bears revive home magic

ORLANDO, FLA – Everyone who was lucky enough to hold a ticket for professional hockey’s return to downtown Orlando expected a magical night. They got that – and a whole lot more.
Orlando Solar Bears defenseman Sean Lorenz beat Florida goalie Pat Nagle with a shot in the 12th round of an epic shootout to give the Solar Bears a 4-3 victory over the Florida Everblades at the Amway Center Saturday night. The win allowed Orlando to earn a split of the first four regular season games against the defending Kelly Cup champions after losing twice last weekend.
With a sellout crowd of 9,555 fans looking on, Lorenz calmly skated in on Nagle, daring the netminder to make the first move. When Nagle blinked, Lorenz snapped a wrist shot between his legs, sending the home fans into a towel-waving frenzy. When Solar Bears goalie John Curry stoned Florida’s Aaron Bogosian on the game’s final shot, the roar nearly blew the roof off the $400 million dollar building built originally to house the NBA’s Orlando Magic.
“I kind of knew his (Nagle’s) style. I knew he was a butterfly goalie (so) I knew that was an opportunity,” Lorenz said. “The ice wasn’t very good so I knew dekes weren’t really going to work so I just took a shot and luckily it went in.”
Lorenz’s heroics and those of Curry and the rest of the Solar Bears came on a night that will be remembered for years to come. From the opening video narrated by legendary NHL broadcaster Mike “Doc” Emrick to the ceremonial puck drop that featured former IHL Solar Bear and current NHL coach Todd Richards, it was a night meant for celebrating the return of the Solar Bears name, logo and colors to the ice.
Coming off of an 8-2 beating the night before in southwest Florida, the Everblades were bent on spoiling the party being thrown by their in-state rivals. The visitors got on the board first when Brandon MacLean took a pass from David Rutherford and deposited a shot over Curry’s near-side shoulder a little over four minutes into the first period. Orlando answered a little under three minutes later when Nick Petersen fed a pass to Mathew Sisca who beat Nagle for the first home goal in the history of the ECHL Solar Bears.
Tensions were growing with each passing minute, especially with the Everblades wanting revenge. Things finally boiled over midway through the stanza when Florida’s Leigh Salters and Orlando’s Josh Caron dropped the gloves. After a couple of early blows by each landed, the fight fizzled into a wrestling match and both players went off.
Late in the period, an Everblades power play led to a pretty tic-tac-toe passing display with Matt Beca finishing it off for his second goal of the season. Barely a minute later, Orlando captain Ryan Cruthers took advantage of what looked like a slow Florida line change. He sent teammate Michael Wilson streaking into the Everblades end for a quick backhander that sailed past Nagle into the top corner of the net.
Almost from the opening face-off, the Solar Bears once again showed grit and determination that was a calling card of the original squad. Head Coach Drake Berehowsky said that whether the team is on the road or defending its home ice, he expects that determination to be a hallmark of this incarnation.
“These guys are all professionals. We play one game at a time, one shift at a time. Whether we’re on the road or at home, we’re going to play hard,” he said. “One of our pillars is going out and competing, showing resilience, showing character and that’s what these kids did tonight. I’m so proud of them and they deserve all the credit because they went out and they gave it their all.”
The Solar Bears gave their fans a thrill early in the second when they took their first lead on home ice. Defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin did the honors, taking a feed and sailing a shot past Nagle’s glove hand. As the clock moved ahead in the period, Curry and Nagle settled in for an old fashioned goalie’s duel, each matching the other save for save. The game got more physical which led to multiple power play chances for both teams but neither one cashed in.
It took less than two minutes of play in the third period for Florida to knot the score. Once again it was Beca who did the honors, chasing down a rebound in front of Curry and shoveling the puck home. Neither team could break the tie through the rest of regulation and the five minute four-on-four overtime, sending the game into a shootout.
Shooting second in each round, Florida thought it had goals twice when both Justin Shugg and Rutherford beat Curry but each shot caught iron and bounced harmlessly away. On the fifth and final shot of the “regulation” shootout, Curry stared down sniper Matt Marquardt and snared what looked like a sure goal to keep the game going.
“He (Marquardt) made a great shot, upper corner. Luckily I didn’t drop my glove – a lot of times in that situation when you see him make that first motion you drop your glove – but I held it up there and was lucky enough to get it,” Curry said about the save.
In the tenth round, Orlando defenseman Kyle Medvec drove hard into the slot and drove a slapshot past Nagle for the first tally. The fans thought the game was won but Alex Hutchings beat Curry with a do-or-die shot to extend things before Lorenz and Curry sealed the deal.
When Berehowsky took the job as head coach of the Solar Bears, he promised that the fans would leave games entertained. By his estimation, Saturday’s game exceeded all of those expectations.
“It was tremendous. You couldn’t ask for anything more. Opening night, full building. They (the fans) were loud and they loved every part of it. They’re very fortunate because they got to see every aspect of the game. They saw speed. They saw a lot of grit. They got to see a fight. They got to see a shootout. They saw overtime,” he said. “It was an awesome night and our owners I think should be so proud of themselves the way they’ve managed to get this team out and visible in the public. The way the team’s been entrenched in the public now is just incredible and we’re so happy to be a part of this community.”
Contact the author at don.money@prohockeynews.com Follow us on Twitter: @ProHockeyNews

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