ORLANDO, FLA – There were so many reasons why the Orlando Solar Bears felt that Saturday night was going to be a good night: new blood in the lineup, the return of a goalie who played well in a higher league, an expected large holiday season home crowd, the team’s first appearance on local television and the opposition’s (and league’s) leading scorer called up. Despite all of that, things did not go the home team’s way.
In front of an announced crowd of 7,399 at the Amway Center, the Florida Everblades scored two unanswered goals in the third period to earn a come from behind 3-2 victory over the Solar Bears. It was the Everblades fifth win in eight meetings with their Sunshine State brothers this season and left a bitter taste in the mouths of a very frustrated bunch of Orlando players and coaches.
“We stopped playing and we just sat back for some reason. We talked about playing on our toes and learning a lesson from last week against Greenville (a hauntingly similar 3-2 loss),” Solar Bears head coach Vince Williams said. “That’s the thing. We just let our guard down and then it’s a bad bounce forced play that goes in and a missed assignment on the other one. That’s the difference – good teams have to learn to put other teams away. We did have chances and we hit posts but it didn’t get done.”
Orlando’s difficulty with scoring goals of late pushed Williams to make a move just before Saturday’s tilt. It was announced an hour before puck drop that the Solar Bears had traded veteran forward David Rutherford and future considerations to Fort Wayne for forward Mickey Lang, the ECHL’s leading goal scorer. Lang was not available but the Solar Bears did have help in the form of Taylor Matson who was loaned to the team by the Iowa Wild as well as one time NHL enforcer Trevor Gillies who was signed last week.
A quick start by Orlando (15-12-0-1) in the opening period was muted at the 8:07 mark when birthday boy Connor Goggin took a penalty that put the Everblades on the power play. It took just 13 seconds for Florida to capitalize when an Orlando clearing attempt that hit a body turned into a point shot by Kellan Tochkin that Mathieu Roy redirected past Solar Bears goalie Christopher Gibson.
Matson, who had stayed with Iowa after impressive performances for the Wild organization at the Traverse City prospects camp and preseason training camp, showed his skills to the Orlando fans ninety seconds later to tie the score. He took a pass from Zach Harrison and raced up the right wing, blowing by a defender before cutting across the net and outwaiting Florida netminder Trevor Cann before flipping the puck over the prone goalie into the net.
After allowing the early man advantage goal, the Solar Bears penalty killers were pressed to kill a double minor that carried from late in the first into the early stages of the middle stanza. The aggressive nature of the kill rolled over to the offense and it paid dividends. Tyler Murovich got the puck back to the blue line where Goggin was waiting to take the pass. He wound up and blistered a shot past Cann into the top corner of the net to put the home team in front.
Down the other end, Gibson, who was playing in an Orlando jersey for the first time in over a month, was showing the form that earned him a call up to the Toronto Marlies where he went 2-1 with a 1.68 goals against average and .946 save percentage. Through two periods, Gibson had 17 saves on 18 shots faced he looked on his way to his first win against the Everblades in four tries.
Despite not having Matthew Pistilli in the lineup, Florida (19-8-1-1) was confident it would find some offense in the final period. The Everblades tightened up their skate laces and came out with a purpose and by the time the frame was nine minutes old, they had everything they would need.
At the 3:09 mark, John Henrion got loose for a rush down the right wing boards into the Orlando end. He cut into the faceoff circle and from the dot whistled a shot over Gibson’s shoulder and into the back of the net. A little over five minutes later, Carl Nielsen found Jordan Henry standing just outside Gibson’s crease. Gibson (28 saves) stopped the initial shot but the rebound came right back to Henry who slid the puck under the goalie’s pads for his third goal of the season and the lead.
Orlando’s power play, which entered the game struggling, had three chances to redeem itself over the final eleven-plus minutes of regulation time to even the score. Cann (27 saves) and his defense had other ideas, shutting down the Solar Bears when it counted including a stop on a clean breakaway by Ian Slater late in the contest.
“We had a good first forty minutes and then we just let our guard down and then we had to turn it up again and it was too late,” Williams said after the loss. “It’s inexcusable, there’s no question. We have to find out the guys who are going to be able to play a full sixty minutes.”
The Solar Bears will have a chance to avenge Saturday’s loss on Monday when the Everblades return to the Amway Center for the final game of the 2013 part of the schedule. Puck drop is set for 7 pm.
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