ORLANDO, Fla. — What a difference a week made in the fortunes of the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears. After an opening weekend where the team was out of sorts in two losses to a division foe, the past weekend was a positive turnaround.
Sunday afternoon at the Amway Center, the Solar Bears put together its best performance of the young season in defeating the Gwinnett Gladiators 4-1 in front of 4,759 fans. Along the way Orlando found its power play, got two goals from defensemen and saw rookie goalie Christopher Gibson pick up his first professional win.
“You see guys get a little bit more familiar with the system in the defensive zone and everything else. You’re starting to see a lot of things start to pay off,” Orlando heach coach Vince Williams said. “Obviously the power play was much better tonight, the penalty kill was good. It was a real good effort from everybody.”
The game was chippy throughout – leftovers from Saturday night’s contest between the two South division rivals – highlighted by a wild third period where two fights and 70 minutes in penalties were handed out. The game also saw the Solar Bears (2-2-0-0) lose defenseman Paul Baier to an injury caused by a high stick to the facial area that could have been quite serious.
Looking to build on a win the night before, Orlando came out of the blocks hard, drawing a roughing penalty on Gwinnett’s Keven Vellieux just nine seconds in. It led directly to the Solar Bears first power play goal of the season when CJ Severyn fed Mike Ullrich for a shot from the circle that beat Gladiators netminder Chris Rawlings at the 23 second mark.
Just over four minutes later, Gwinnett’s Kurtis Bartliff lit the game’s fuse when his stick caught Paul Baier in the face near the right eye. Baier left the game, leaving the Solar Bears with just five defensemen – one of them being his worried brother Eric.
“You never want to see an injury like that go down. Having something happen to your eye is a little different than if your were getting a cut on the cheek or even if you’re breaking a bone,” he said. “Hopefully he’s doing alright.”
The Solar Bears aggressive play on offense came into play late in the period and it led to another goal. Zach Yuen drove a shot from the point that was deflected into the air to Rawlings’ left. Defenseman Cody Wild was breaking to that side and knocked it down then sent a backhander from a tough angle toward the net. Somehow it found its way across the goal line to give Orlando a 2-0 lead.
A little over four minutes into the middle stanza, Gwinnett (0-4-0-0) got itself back into the game when Kirill Tulupov jumped on a rebound of a Vellieux shot and fired it past Gibson. Soon after the Gladiators had an opportunity to tie it with a power play but Orlando’s young goaltender and a stout penalty killing crew denied the visitors.
The Solar Bears broke the game open with a pair of goals in a little over two minutes late
in the period. The first came off the stick of Eric Baier – his second in two games – when his shot from the top of the far circle found the back of the net for a power play tally. The second belonged to Zach Harrison who took a pass from Severyn off the boards and whistled a writer past Rawlings.
Although the final period was scoreless, it was not void of action nor venom. Eight minutes in, tempers boiled over leading to former Gladiator Tyler Murovich dropping the gloves with Jeremie Malouin. Less than two minutes later, Severyn, who finished the game with three assists, went with Gwinnett’s Brenden Walker. Along the way, the Solar Bears killed off a couple more Gladiators power plays to run its perfect kill streak to 23 straight.
“I think it is a good sublet of how our team works hard and battles like that,” Eric Baier said. “Penalty kill is all about grinding it out and working hard, blocking shots, getting gritty. It’s a very good sign.”
In picking up his first win, Gibson logged 21 saves and looked much calmer than a week ago. Williams said the fact that an experienced goalie John Curry is back in Orlando and can mentor Gibson should go a long way toward the rookie’s maturing as a professional
The rookie and his partner and the rest of the team will be tested this week with four games to play beginning Tuesday night in South Carolina. Williams said that he is actually happy that the team will be back on the ice quickly this week.
“The good thing is there’s not a lot of time to relax. You let momentum take you and then it’s just playing games and teaching and fine tuning and taking care of yourself and making sure they get enough rest and eat the right way tonight and tomorrow to prepare,” Williams said. “That’s a pro schedule. That’s what it’s about. It’s a good lesson now to get used to that.”
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