The Solar Bears got a boost to their roster on Wednesday.
Since the team only plays an hour from Cape Canaveral, make that a rocket booster.
The team announced the return of forward Hunter Fejes, arguably one of the fastest players that has suited up for the team; certainly the fastest the Solar Bears have had in the time that Drake Berehowsky has been behind the bench for Orlando.
“He’s got to be in the top five of the fastest guys in the league, if not the fastest,” Berehowsky said. “But he also plays the game the right way and he’s going to bring experience and leadership, and hopefully the guys will follow him.”
Fejes started the 2019-20 season on a Professional Try-Out with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, but did not suit up for any of the team’s four games to begin the season. After Fejes was notified by Moose management Tuesday morning that he would be released from his PTO, it didn’t take long before both player and coach were working to bring Fejes back to the City Beautiful as fast as possible.
“I found out about 9 a.m. yesterday morning, and I probably talked to Drake at around 9:15,” Fejes said. “I called [team president] Chris Heller as well, and they were very helpful in terms of the adjustment of getting back here, and I think I was on a flight two hours later on my way to Orlando.”
There’s no question that playing in Orlando has allowed Fejes to thrive. Over parts of the past two seasons – between several AHL call-ups in between – he has managed to produce at a point-per-game pace (47 points in 47 games) for the Solar Bears. That’s the best output he’s enjoyed with any pro team, and his continued development in the ECHL last year led to the most games he’s played in the AHL (49 combined with Manitoba and Rockford) in a single season.
He’s also holds the franchise marks for playoff goals and points with 17 points (10g-7a) in 17 postseason matches.
“This organization has everything you need to be successful,” Fejes said. “Great facilities, great coaches, great trainers, great equipment guys. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to make that next step or improve your game.”
The continuity of this year’s roster should only help accelerate things for Fejes.
“With the returning guys, it’s like we never left, and we’ve kind of picked up where we left off, and I like the energy we have here around the rink,” Fejes added. “I’m excited to see what we can do with the speed we have here.”
Brent Pedersen probably spent more time with Fejes than any Solar Bears player last season. After signing with Orlando for his rookie season, Pedersen also saw time in Manitoba on a PTO and spent the bulk of the 2018-19 campaign playing with Fejes in the AHL before returning to Orlando for the postseason.
“He’s definitely going to help out our team a lot - he’s fast, big, strong and he can shoot the puck,” Pedersen said. “He’s pretty good in all areas of the game, and he’s able to create turnovers and chances.
“He’s a similar type of player as I am, so when I first came to Orlando it was nice to see how he plays the game at this level. And when we were in Manitoba, it was nice to have him there, since he’s played at that level before. He was there to give me some tips and helped me along.”
If there is a downside to bringing in Fejes, it’s the timing, in the sense the team had to release Pierre-Luc Mercier in order to make room on the roster for Fejes. At this time of year, when other ECHL teams are still relatively healthy and have yet to be hit by call-ups from the AHL, the demand from those clubs to make a trade – even for future considerations – is low.
“I don’t think you ever have the intent to cut anybody, but at the same time players have to realize it’s a league where you get bodies in and out very fast and you’re always competing for your job every single day,” Berehowsky acknowledged. “Anytime you have to release a guy it’s always tough. I care about all of the players, and it hurts to deliver that news, but it’s part of the business.”
Moving forward, Berehowsky knows he has a busy weekend ahead for his team, and Fejes, who expects to earn his ice time on Friday against Norfolk and then on Saturday at South Carolina.
“If he’s ready to play and he’s practicing well, he’s going to play,” Berehowsky said. “That goes for anybody. We want everyone to compete for jobs every day, and it starts in practice.”
Even while he was up with Manitoba, Fejes kept tabs on the Solar Bears, and understands the challenges facing the team despite not being present for last Saturday’s season-opening loss. That should help set him and his teammates up for success this weekend.
“I think we need to keep coming together as a team, focusing on the little details. I think everyone here playing at this level can improve on that, and I think if we do that collectively as a group, we’ll be successful and go a long way,” Fejes said. “Everything starts in our ‘D’ zone. If we can be reliable and count on everyone to do their job, the offense and goals will come.”