ESTERO, FLA – One of the most consistent parts of the Orlando Solar Bears early season has been its goaltending. When both John Curry and Christopher Gibson were called up to the AHL during the past week, fans naturally wondered what would happen with two new netminders, Garret Sparks and Carsen Chubak, in the blue paint. Two games into the change, it is business as usual.
Friday night at the Germain Arena, Sparks stopped 32 of 33 shots including 17 in the third period as the Solar Bears registered their second straight 2-1 victory over the Florida Everblades. Coming on the heels of a 30 save performance on Thursday night, Sparks earned his second straight number one star while frustrating one of the top offenses in the ECHL.
Hoping to draw on the energy of the 4,361 mostly Everblades leaning fans at the Germain, Florida (10-4-1-1) had an opportunity to start quick with an Orlando early penalty but Orlando’s penalty killing stifled the Everblades high-powered offense. The Solar Bears offense didn’t really get untracked until the mid-point of the opening period but Florida goalie Kristers Gudlevskis was matching Sparks.
The first big swing of the game came in the final minute of the opening period. Florida’s Mathieu Roy tangled with Orlando’s Colton Jobke with 13 seconds left before the intermission as a result of Roy hitting Jobke with an elbow. The extra penalty caused an offensive zone draw for the Solar Bears. C.J. Severyn took the faceoff and poked the puck in the direction of Wade MacLeod who got off a shot that found its way through Gudlevskis’ pads and across the goal line. It was the first time that Orlando had scored first on the road this year.
Because of Jobke’s fighting major and one to Zach Yuen in the final second of the first, the Solar Bears (10-5-0-1) had just four defensemen for the first five minutes of the middle stanza but survived it due to Sparks. Later in the period, Sparks denied both A.J. Jenks and Kyle Bonis on golden opportunities.
Down the other end, Gudlevskis (21 saves) was doing his part to keep the Everblades within striking distance. Florida’s defense faced a test in the final four minutes of the frame as overlapping penalties gave the visitors a minute’s worth of two man advantage time but the home team kept the opponents from increasing the lead.
The late second penalty kill stoked the comeback fires as the third period opened. The Everblades pressed the Solar Bears and got the game-tying goal 5:48 in when Roy rifled home the rebound of a blocked Jenks shot.
The game remained tied well past the midway mark of the final period thanks to the work of the netminders who seemed like they were playing a game of can you top this. Gudlevskis robbed MacLeod with just over eight minutes left and shortly thereafter Sparks thwarted Roy point blank and then denied an odd-man opportunity.
Orlando caught the biggest break of the game at the 16:18 mark and it directly led to the game winning goal. Tyler Murovich got the puck in the Florida end and attempted to make a pass out to the front of the net. On its way, the puck hit an Everblades player and redirected past Gudlevskis into the net.
From there, the game became Sparks’ will against the force of the Everblades. Florida peppered the Orlando net with shots, forcing the Solar Bears goalie to pile up the saves. His glove hand denied Austin Levi the tying tally before he made two stops in the final seven seconds to put the game in Orlando’s win column.
The teams will face each other one more time this weekend in southwest Florida Saturday night with puck drop at 7 pm.
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