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Practice Report: Dec. 9, 2020

Wednesday, December 9th
Practice Report: Dec. 9, 2020

For Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Ryan Lohin, this could be a make-or-break season in his development. What was supposed to have been the forward’s first full season in pro hockey in 2019-20 was abruptly derailed by a lower-body injury in mid-December, sidelining him for the remainder of the season.

That time home in eastern Pennsylvania has allowed the former UMass-Lowell captain to rehab his injured leg, and get into what might be the best shape of his life.

“It was obviously disappointing for my season to be cut short,” Lohin reflected. “But it was good to have the surgery I needed. I was fortunate enough to work with a great team of doctors and therapists in Philadelphia. The rehab process was about eight to 12 months from the time of the surgery.

“It was a grueling, yet rewarding process. Some days I was in physical therapy for three to four hours. It was tough not being able to walk or do anything for myself. The experience was definitely humbling, but I feel even stronger than before and in a much better place mentally, which I think is huge.”

He enters this season in the final year of the two-year pact he signed with the Lightning in March of 2019 and is ready to make an impact - he’ll hope to begin that journey starting first with the Solar Bears.

“Any time you are faced with the adversity of an injury, it’s important to come back stronger than before and not take anything for granted,” Lohin said. “I think that’s what I hope to achieve this year: playing my game that has led to success in the past.”

Because he only played in 15 games last season prior to his injury, Lohin maintains his rookie status entering this season.

“Having experienced some games last year in the ECHL and a few the previous season in the AHL has prepared me a ton for this year,” Lohin said. “I feel like this year I am comfortable with the guys and the routine of pro hockey and ready to hit the ground running. After the extended layoff for myself I am very excited to finally get back to game action.”

So far this week, the coaching staff has kept Lohin on a line with fellow Lightning/Crunch prospects Peter Abbandonato and Nikita Pavlychev.

“We feel great out there. The chemistry is coming together, and both are great players,” Lohin said. “I played against ‘Pavs’ growing up, and he was always a tough match-up. Finally getting a chance to play with him is exciting - he’s a good person and player.”

Solar Bears head coach Drake Berehowsky - no stranger to injuries himself during his own playing career - understands the journey that Lohin has taken to get to this point.

“He looks like he’s skating much better,” Berehowsky observed. “He’s comfortable on the ice. It often takes some time coming off an injury to re-establish that confidence, and we owe it to his development to be patient with him.”

Kuqali and Lohan adjust to new "D" partners

Last season the Solar Bears ranked seventh in the ECHL in team goals-against average, with a stingy 2.90 goals surrendered per game. While much of that can be attributed to the stellar play of goaltenders Clint Windsor and Zachary Fucale, plenty of pucks never posed a threat to Orlando’s netminders thanks to the play of defensemen Alexander Kuqali and Kevin Lohan, who Drake Berehowsky often paired together.

During the summer months, several teammates, assessing the season prior to the interruption of COVID-19, commented on how effective the duo was as shutting down opposing offenses.

“A big part of our success was our communication - we were always on the same page,” Lohan said. “It helped us stay fundamentally sound defensively. We played similar style games, which helped us be predictable to each other. We always knew what the other guy was think or was going to do. That helped us be more aggressive in all zones. We also knew our roles and took pride in trying to be strong defensively and reliable in our D-zone. [Kuqali] is an awesome teammate and so smart on the ice, it made it really easy to play with him.

But with a new season comes new players, and new combinations; the pairing of Kuqali and Lohan has been broken up in training camp, as Kuqali has been skating with Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Dmitry Semykin, while Lohan has been paired with rookie defenseman Paul Meyer.

The breakup of Kuqali and Lohan is one born out of necessity, according to the Solar Bears head coach and general manager.

“I think we want to try different combinations and see how things work,” Berehowsky said. “With the level of depth and talent that teams in our league are going to have this season, we need all of our defense to be sharp.

“Both pairings appear to compliment each other. Today watching the breakouts, they were communicating effectively, and during some other drills we ran they were doing a good job of standing forwards up. It’ll take some time. Hopefully in game situations we’ll have three really strong defensive pairings.”

The two mainstays on the Solar Bears blue line have no complaints about their new partners.

“‘Meysy’ has been strong all camp. We’ve only been playing together for a few days but he’s been easy to play with,” Lohan said. “He’s smart and strong defensively. He’s always communicating, which makes things easy, especially since we have never played together before. You can tell he’s eager to learn and he has a strong work ethic.”

Kuqali, meanwhile, is trying to make the transition to the North American game simple and easy for Semykin, a 6-foot-3 defender from Moscow, and a third-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018.

“He’s definitely strong on the puck and he’s a big body, his size is similar to Kevin,” Kuqali said. “We’re both lefties, so we can inter-change with one of us on our off-side. We have to be able to communicate because of the language barrier, but I’m trying to learn some Russian words to make it easier on him. But he’s got a hard shot and he seems to be adapting well.”

Windsor enjoying new gear

When a young hockey player decides they want to be a goalie, they’re often attracted to the position because of all of the equipment.

Clint Windsor was no exception - and on Wednesday the netminder sported a brand-new blocker, trapper and leg pads during practice.

The goaltender indicated that the new gear would be ready for game use after breaking them in during one practice; should Windsor dress for the team’s first game of the season on Saturday in Estero, he will be using the new equipment.

As for his Solar Bears mask? That’ll remain, for now.

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