Blue Jackets’ 16-game winning streak conjures memories of record-setting runs for Solar Bears
By Jesse Liebman
“We’re going streaking!!!”
– Frank “The Tank” Ricard, Old School
If only it were that simple.
In the course of a season in any sport, the statistical likelihood of stringing together a series of consecutive victories into the double digits is extraordinarily difficult. In hockey, most pundits will probably tell you a lengthy win streak requires a talented roster, favorable scheduling, some solid coaching, and a hot goaltender.
Most hockey fans are aware of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ recent attempt at NHL history: 17 consecutive wins, a feat only attained once before by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins. Sadly, Columbus’ quest fell short at 16 wins earlier this week following a 5-0 blowout loss to the Washington Capitals.
Remember though, the Penguins achieved their streak in an expansion year when the Ottawa Senators had just been admitted to the league, and the Hartford Whalers (remember them?!), New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers were in the midst of non-playoff seasons – these were all teams Pittsburgh beat along the way to etching their way into the history books. In a salary cap-era NHL, where parity is the name of the game, the Blue Jackets seemingly captured lightning in a bottle over the last several weeks.
Of course, the Solar Bears – both the current ECHL franchise and the previous incarnation that was owned and operated by RDV Sports in the International Hockey League – have had some impressive winning streaks of their own.
In the 1996-97 season, the IHL Solar Bears went on a 16-game tear from Oct. 25 to Nov. 30 in what was at the time the third-longest winning streak in professional hockey history.
“Goaltending is huge. Any team that does well is going to have good goaltending, and we had that in Allan Bester and Scott LaGrand that year,” opined Hubie McDonough, who captained the Solar Bears during that season. “At that juncture, those guys were definitely helping us, because we were a talented team, but we were by no means a perfect team.”
After retiring following the 1998-99 season, McDonough joined the team’s front office and served as the director of hockey operations during the team’s Turner Cup championship season in 2000-01, when the team enjoyed an 11-game winning streak in February.
“That final season when we went on that run in February leading into the spring and playoffs, we had the youth movement and talent mixed with veteran leadership,” McDonough said. “Plus we had Peter Horachek behind the bench, and he did a tremendous job molding that squad.”
Current Solar Bears captain Eric Baier is the longest-tenured player in the history of the ECHL Solar Bears, and has seen his share of memorable moments in the young franchise’s history, including a club-record 11 game win streak during the 2013-14 season, his first in Orlando. After Orlando reeled off 11 consecutive victories from Feb. 4-28, that team finished the year with a 43-24-2-3 record and made its debut in the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
“There’s a whole combination of a bunch of things why we had that run,” Baier said. “It’s the confidence of when you show up to the rink even for a practice because you know it’s going to be a good practice. And when it’s game time, you don’t know if you’re going to win or lose, but you’re going to be in the game from start to finish. You know the team is going to respond in tight situations and guys recognize how important it is to win those games.”
As the Solar Bears close in on the halfway point of the 72-game ECHL regular season, the team is off to its best statistical start in its five-year history. Through 34 games the club boasts an 18-10-4-2 record, good for 42 points (.618 win percentage) and is only five points back of Florida for first place in the South Division.
We have to ask: does Orlando’s captain think this year’s squad can start piling up the wins? After all – to borrow an old sports cliché – the season is a marathon; not a sprint.
“We all believe we can come out on top. It’s having the will to do it and the discipline to stay in control of our emotions – we never want to get too high or too low,” explained Baier. “I feel like everybody in the room believes we can do that – where we can go on long tears – and luck certainly plays into it as well.”
Hey, you know what they say: records were made to be broken.
Here are the records for the longest winning streaks held in each league:
NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins – 17 games, March 9-April 10 – 1992-93
AHL: Norfolk Admirals – 28 games, Feb. 10-March 14 – 2011-12
IHL: Peoria Rivermen – 18 games, Oct. 6-Nov. 22 – 1990-91
ECHL: South Carolina Stingrays – 23 games, Feb. 27-March 27 – 2014-15
The Solar Bears will look to pick up their second consecutive victory against the Colorado Eagles tonight at the Budwesier Events Center at 9:05 p.m. ET.