ORLANDO, FLA – Goal scoring is not an easy thing to do on a nightly basis. It takes equal parts of skill and luck to be able to beat good goaltending on a consistent basis. If a player can score in successive games, he can earn a reputation as a sniper. Sunday afternoon, Orlando Solar Bears forward Olivier Fortier took a step in the direction of earning a rep as a big time scorer.
Put on a line with Scott Tanski and newcomer Chris Lawrence, the 23-year old Fortier has all of a sudden become the go-to scorer on a team that has lost two of its top scorers (Nick Petersen and Ryan Ginand) to call-ups. Sunday’s two goals allowed Fortier to tie Petersen for the team lead in goals scored. Lawrence brought his two-game points total to five with a pair of assists while Tanski added his sixth helper of the year.
“First of all, I think the job that my line mates are doing for me right now – Scott Tanski and (Chris) Lawrence – I think they’re playing really well. They give pucks in the slot all the time so I just have to bury them,” Fortier said. “Second of all, I try to go to the net all the time and hang around that blue paint (goalie’s crease) there. Right now it’s paying off. I’m getting the bounces for me right now so I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.”
For Toivonen, the start was his first in a good six or seven months. Last year, the former first round pick of the Boston Bruins had played for the Malmo team in Sweden. His last start in North American came in 2011 when he was with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, making Sunday’s game a test on several levels.
“It’s been a while here but it’s one of those things. It’s almost like riding a bike. When you get out there and get into the game, things start coming (back) naturally,” Toivonen said. “Luckily I got a couple of somewhat easy shots to start with and got into the game. I started feeling better and better as the game went on. Still, (I have) a lot to work (on), a lot to improve but it’s always nice to win and it’s good to get that first win out of the way.”
With yet another call-up of Corbin Baldwin to Houston and defenseman Jarrett Rush hurriedly signed to fill the void, Toivonen’s poise between the pipes would prove to be an important part of the Solar Bears’ game plan. He had to face two very active Kalamazoo power play opportunities during the middle stages of the first period and held his ground.
Orlando had just one man advantage in the opening stanza but unlike the K-Wings, the Solar Bears connected. With the line combination of Rob Mignardi, Lawrence and Fortier buzzing around Joel Martin in the Kalamazoo net, Lawrence fired a shot that Martin stopped. The rebound came out to Fortier who sent the puck back on net. Martin got a piece of it but the momentum of the puck carried it across the goal line with 51.1 ticks left before the intermission to put Orlando in front.
After the game, Solar Bears head coach Drake Berehowsky admitted that his team looked a little leg weary early on but they battle through it.
“I think the guys were a little more tired today. It’s been a long haul. Yesterday (Saturday) was a pretty physical, demanding game. We came out today and I thought they got the jump on us for the first little bit but we came back and we battled hard,” Berehowsky said. “We were down in shots but by the end of the period I think we took that over that lead. Like I said, they’ve got a great team. They’ve got a lot of talent. They came out and they played hard but we were able to hold them off and come up with the win.”
The second period was much like the first as Toivonen continued to turn back the K-Wings. Kalamazoo threw 11 shots at the Finnish netminder but he was more than ready for each one. Orlando had plenty of chances as well, putting 12 shots on Martin, who finished the game with 34 saves. They did double the lead to two at the 12:40 mark of the stanza and it was the new big line that did the honors. Lawrence started the sequence by making a nice drag move to open up a passing lane to Tanski. When he got the puck, Tanski fired on net and the rebound once again found its way to Fortier who fired it home for his eighth of the season.
Kalamazoo finally found a way to beat Toivonen early in the third. It came at the 5:49 mark when Steven Anthony slipped a pass across the crease to Dustin Cloutier who was alone on the backside to drive the puck into the half-empty net. It would be the lone blemish on what was a confidence-building performance by the team and its new goalie.
“He’s (Toivonen) a solid goalie. He’s a big goalie. He’s quick across the bottom of the net and takes away time and space from players,” Berehowsky said. “It was fun to watch him play again. His confidence will just grow game by game and hopefully he’ll get better and better. With the three top goalies (John Curry, Mike Brodeur and Toivonen), it’s going to be hopefully hard to beat us.”
The game also had its share of hard feelings as three fights occurred during the contest. With the battles now numbering four in two games, Tuesday’s 7 p.m. finale to the home stand and the three-game set could be nasty.
“I think any time you go out and play the same team three games in a row, it’s always intense and the players start to dislike each other,” Berehowsky said. “We just have to focus on our game and realize that the two points are all that matter. We have to stay disciplined and come out every shift and just try to keep getting better all the time.”
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