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2019 training camp opens with some familiar faces, and new challenges

Monday, September 30th
2019 training camp opens with some familiar faces, and new challenges

ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s finally here. After waiting anxiously through the summer months, hockey season is upon us, as the Orlando Solar Bears opened their eighth ECHL training camp Monday morning at the RDV Sportsplex Ice Den.

With over a dozen returning players from last season named to the team’s training camp roster, there is plenty of optimism – as well as myriad unknowns – as head coach and general manager Drake Berehowsky and the rest of his staff prepare to begin the task of taking a collection of approximately 30 players and whittling them down to what will ultimately be the 2019-20 Solar Bears.

Nothing is guaranteed – and everyone is expected to work their hardest to secure a spot on the team’s Opening Night roster.

“The big thing is we wanted a competitive camp,” Berehowsky explained. “Whether you’ve been on the team for 10 years or a [first-year] player, we want the best possible players for this team and this organization, and when you bring in as much talent as we have right now, it’s going to be a competitive camp and we look forward to watching them.”

Solar Bears face crowded crease

Of course, the most obvious logjam is at the goaltender position, as the Solar Bears took the ice with four goaltenders Monday morning. With Clint Windsor under contract and the team assigned Zachary Fucale, Zach Sawchenko and Spencer Martin, Orlando’s bench boss acknowledged the challenge he faces in determining who will be between the pipes for club.

“They’re all great goalies and it’s going to be a tough decision,” Berehowsky admitted. “We sit as a group in the coaches’ office after [practice], and we try to make educated decisions, and hopefully it works out for the best.”

For Fucale, a former second-round pick of the Montréal Canadiens, the chance to establish himself in Orlando despite the obvious challenge of competing with three other goaltenders is one he’s already familiar with. Fucale is under an AHL contract with the Syracuse Crunch, and already is competing with all of the NHL-contracted goalies in the Tampa Bay Lightning pipeline. It’s a day-by-day approach for Fucale, and the goalie readily acknowledges that the only thing he can control is himself.

“All in due time,” Fucale explains. “The situation will resolve itself, and all I can do right now is make sure I get prepared for the first game of the season and help the team. That’s really what I’m all about – I think I’m a team player, and I want to just help the team any time I’m out there.”

Who says you can’t come home?

One notable player on the ice today was veteran defenseman Taylor Doherty, who fans may recall from his stint with the club during the 2016-17 campaign. After bouncing between Orlando and the American Hockey League, the 6-foot-8 blueliner was a force for Orlando in the playoffs, leading the team’s defensemen in scoring with seven points in seven games.

Now, the big man is back in town, and ready for another round in the City Beautiful.

Doherty had originally signed with the Solar Bears last summer, but before training camp opened an opportunity to play overseas in the Czech Extraliga became available to the defenseman, and it was too good of an offer to pass up.

“I know a lot of people think he left the team, but the opportunity [in Europe] was great for him, and [his decision] had nothing to do with our relationship,” Berehowsky said. “He loves this organization, and I think we’ve built good relationships with players…we’re thrilled that he’s back.”

When Doherty’s signing for the upcoming campaign was recently announced, a few fans on social media voiced their hesitancy in welcoming him back. But Doherty and Berehowsky both have made it clear that their relationship was not damaged by Doherty’s decision to head to Europe the year before. In fact, they remained in frequent contact.

“[Orlando] is a great spot to play, obviously. Drake and I have been in touch for a little over a year, and when I decided to come back to North America, it was my first choice to play for Drake here in Orlando,” Doherty said. “I’m happy to be back, and excited to get the season going.”

Unfinished business

For Colby McAuley, it’s all about culture. That’s why McAuley, who played for Orlando last season on loan from his AHL contract with the San Jose Barracuda, was willing to commit to an ECHL deal with the Solar Bears for his second year with the team. The decision was a no-brainer.

“When they asked me to come back, it was for sure, 100 percent,” McAuley said. “The [city], the guys coming back, the core group…I was excited to come back…It’s key, having a core group. Drake had set out to have guys back. There’s guys that are back here that were very close last year, and that’s what this team needs.”

Having so many familiar faces around, and with the memory of last season’s bitter second-round loss to the Florida Everblades – a series in which four of the five games were decided in overtime, and could have conceivably gone Orlando’s way with the right bounces – still fresh in his mind only serves as fuel for the fiery McAuley.

“Obviously last year wasn’t a good ending for us, but this year it’s going to be way different. We’re even better than last year, and we’re going to be starting out to push all the way [for a deep playoff run].”

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Sunday, April 28th
Greenville Swamp Rabbits @ Orlando Solar Bears
Puck Drops:
7:00 PM EDT
Kia Center
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GVL Greenville Swamp Rabbits
at
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