Welcome back to another season at Solar Bears Den!
When we last saw the Orlando Solar Bears, the team was wrapping up a 2021-22 season that saw them finish just shy of one playoff spot in the ECHL South Division for the second year in a row.
Fast-forward six months and the team is back on the ice to kick off the 2022-23 season, with a new face behind the bench, several returning key players and another shot at that elusive Kelly Cup.
Orlando lost a key scoring threat in forward Aaron Luchuk, who has taken his talents overseas. However, four of Orlando’s top five scoring forwards from last season will return. Forward Tristin Langan, who led all skaters with 47 points in 2021-22, returns for her fourth season in a Solar Bears uniform. Also returning are forwards Tyler Bird (season four), Brian Bowen (season two), Fejes Hunter (4th) and Ross Olsson (2nd). Luke Boka returns for his second professional season. Max Cajkovic will also return after being reassigned by Syracuse.
The team’s new forwards include ECHL veteran Shawn Szydlowski, who won a league MVP in 2017-18 and led Fort Wayne to a Kelly Cup title in 2020-21; Karl El-Mir, who has experience in Indy, Norfolk and Greenville; Carson Denomie, who was acquired from Tulsa at the future offseason considerations deadline; and Matthew Barnaby. No folks, the team didn’t pull another Sean Avery-style PR stunt last season. The son of the former Saber will join the Solar Bears for his second full pro season after appearing in 31 games for Fort Wayne in 2021-22.
On defense, the team lost captain Kevin Lohan, who has decided to hang up his skates after a brief 4-year career, most of it in Orlando. Most of the team’s defensive corps is back, led by veteran Michael Brodzinski, returning for his fourth season with the Solar Bears after leading all defensemen in scoring. Steven Oleksy returns for his first full season in Orlando after arriving in a trade with Toledo in late January. Luke McInnis returns for his third season with the Bears. Also returning are Andrew Mclean, who is beginning his second full pro season; Chris Harpur, who made his pro debut late last season and will start his first full pro campaign; and Dmitry Semykin, who was reassigned by Syracuse last week. New to the defense is Jimmy Mazza, acquired in a trade from the Adirondacks in July; and Jack Dougherty, who is making his ECHL debut after 6 seasons in the AHL.
The goal looks to be solid with the return of All-Star Brad Barone. The veteran looks to build on a breakout 2021-22 season, in which he ranked near the top of nearly every ECHL goalkeeping category, was named the Solar Bears’ only All-Star and even earned an invite to the field of Tampa Bay training. He will be joined by second-year pro Jack LaFontaine, who signed an AHL deal with Syracuse after a whirlwind first season that saw him start the year in college with Minnesota, then sign with Carolina midway through the season and make his debut. in the NHL with the Hurricanes. They will be joined by Brandon Halverson, who has ECHL experience with multiple teams and has an NHL appearance on his resume.
Behind the bench is first-year head coach Matt Carkner, who was hired in June to replace Drake Berehowsky. He spent the last five seasons as an assistant coach in Bridgeport after completing a 15-year playing career, with NHL stops in Ottawa, San Jose and the Islanders.
Another roster note: The team will not unofficially share an affiliation with San Jose this season. The Sharks and Barracuda signed an affiliation agreement with Wichita in late August.
You can find the full season opener roster here.
The Solar Bears will face 12 different opponents, with 60 of 72 games coming within the South Division. They will face Florida with more, with 14 games, followed by Jacksonville with 13, expansion Savannah with 10, Greenville with 9, and South Carolina and Atlanta with 7 games each. They will play 6 games against Division North opponents: Trois-Rivieres 4 times (including a 3-game series in Quebec in mid-January) and one home game each against the Adirondacks and Maine. The team will head west to Idaho in mid-March for three against the Steelheads and host Utah for a pair of games in February. Finally, the Central Division’s only matchup comes with a home game against Kalamazoo in December.
Other highlights of the schedule include the annual school day game on November 8 against Florida and a special 12 noon Thanksgiving kick-off against Greenville.
You can find the full schedule here.
As for the ECHL itself, there are a few changes for the 2022-23 season:
-As noted above, Savannah joined the league as its 28th member. With Norfolk’s move from the South Division to the North, the 4 divisions have 7 teams each.
-Eleven teams have new faces behind the bench, with nine of them being ECHL coaches for the first time. Three of them were the captains of their respective teams in the 2021-22 season: Pete MacArthur (Adirondack), Chad Costello (Allen) and Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman (Worcester).
-A two-umpire system will finally come to the league…but only in 25% of scheduled games.
-In-game lineups will see a slight change, as the minimum number of skaters has increased from 16 to 17.
-The league also has some rule changes:
Another rule change from ECHL Official Rules 2022-23:
Rule 76.4 (Encounters)
At all eight faceoff spots (excluding center ice), the rule has changed: the defending player must choose the attacking player whose stick lands first in the designated white area.
— ECHL Stats (@EchlStats) October 15, 2022
New offense added to the ECHL Official Rules for 2022-23:
Rule 23.9: Other Offenses That Could Result in Game Misconduct
(iii) Uses language, taunts, or gestures that are considered discriminatory or derogatory in nature, including race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation.
— ECHL Stats (@EchlStats) October 13, 2022
After a pair of behind-closed-doors preseason tuneups against South Carolina and Florida, the Solar Bears begin their regular-season schedule in Jacksonville on Saturday. Orlando will then host the Icemen on Sunday afternoon in their home opener.