ALLEN,TX – The Orlando Solar Bears headed out midweek to begin the back half of a six-game road trip with a stop in Allen, Texas for a pair of games. When the sun rose on gameday Friday morning, they found themselves facing an opponent they did not expect to be battling, one that left them with a short roster to face an improving Americans team.
And despite all of the adversity, the Solar Bears came up with arguably their best performance of the season to date.
Joe Garreffa had a career-high four point night with two goals and two assists while defenseman Andrew McLean had an ECHL career-high three assist game while playing as a forward to lead Orlando (12-10-1-0) to a 6-2 win over Allen (8-9-3-0) in front of an announced crowd of 4,416 at the Credit Union of Texas Event Center. Fabrizio Ricci, Luke Boka, Aaron Luchuk and newcomer Jake Transit each scored as the Solar Bears offense came alive as the contest went along.
Goalie Zach Emond, playing with an emergency backup behind him, turned in a solid performance with 34 saves on 36 shots faced to grab his fifth win of the season.
What should have been a run of the mill game day took a big turn in the late afternoon when the league’s daily transaction list came out. It showed that the Solar Bears had put seven players on the Commissioner’s Exempt List – which could be anything related to COVID-19 but not necessarily a positive test (as we learned last season). The list included goalie Brad Barone and six forwards: Tristin Langan, Steenn Paschinuk, Ian Parker, Canon Pieper, Jackson Keane and Dylan Fitze (Fitze had actually been on injured reserve before being activated and going on the commissioner’s list). Even with signing Tom Hodges as the emergency netminder and the activation of McLean from IR and Transit for his first professional game, it still left Orlando three players short of a full roster. They had 13 available skaters – the minimum number allowed by the ECHL to compete – so the game went on.
A little over five minutes into the opening period, things got a bit nasty on the ice. Allen’s Dawson Butt crushed Orlando defenseman Luke McInnis behind the visitors net, leaving McInnis face down on the ice (he did get up and remained in the game). Solar Bears forward Dmitry Semykin immediately took up for his teammate, going after Butt and landing multiple blows. Semykin ended up with 17 minutes in penalties (slashing minor, fighting major and a misconduct) while Butt’s night was over with a fighting major, a major penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct.
During the back half of the frame, each team got onto the scoreboard. At the 13:35 mark, McLean sprang Garreffa on a clean breakaway from the Allen defensive blueline. Garreffa made a beeline for the net and wired a shot past the stick side of Americans goalie Hayden Lavigne for his fourth goal of the season.
Just over two minutes later, Allen evened the score when a three-on-two rush into the Orlando end led to a centering feed by Brenden Troock. The puck bounced around until Jack Combs got his stick on it and jammed it past Emond through traffic for his sixth of the year.
The Solar Bears began to take control of the game in the second period, scoring bookend goals early and late in the stanza. Less than three minutes in, McLean kept the puck in the Allen end and quickly moved it to Garreffa. The Americans left the speedy Orlando forward a lot of room and Garreffa used it, skating through the faceoff circle and firing a short side shot that found its way through for his second of the night and fifth of the season.
Then in the final couple of minutes of the period, Orlando doubled its lead during a penalty kill. Captain Kevin Lohan sent a long stretch pass to Garreffa in the neutral zone, creating a two-on-one break with Ricci. The pair skated into the Americans defensive zone where Garreffa drew the defender to him, leaving a wide open Ricci cruising into the slot. Ricci took the feed from his teammate and buried the puck into the back of the net for his second of the year and a 3-1 Solar Bears lead after two.
An Allen penalty at the buzzer to end the second gave Orlando a power play to start the third. Off the opening faceoff, Braydon Barker separated the puck from an Americans defenseman near the home team’s cage. Barker got control and fed it to Boka who beat Lavigne (31 saves) from the top of the crease for his fifth to make it 4-1 in favor of the visitors.
The score stayed that way until a flurry of goals late. The first came at 16:19 when Barker did some work along the end boards. He took the puck and centered it to Transit who used some traffic in front as a distraction to score his first pro goal in his very first professional contest.
Allen answered back at 17:41 when Troock set up Tyler Poulsen for a rocket from the top of the faceoff circle to Emond’s left for his fourth of the 2021-22 campaign to cut the margin to 5-2. In the final minute with Orlando killing a penalty and Lavigne pulled for an extra skater, McLean and Garreffa helped to set up Luchuk for an empty net, short-handed tally for Luchuk’s tenth of the year.
The two teams will battle again Saturday night starting at 8:05 p.m. Eastern time (7:05 p.m. Central) from Allen.
Notes: Final shots were 37-36 in favor of Orlando… The Solar Bears went 1-for-3 on the power play while the Americans went 0-for-3… Orlando defenseman Michael Brodzinski played in his 150th as a Solar Bear, the sixth player to get to that number… Lohan’s assist on Ricci’s goal was his fifth shorthanded helper, putting him in solo second place in team history for most man down assists.
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