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Practice Report: Jan. 7, 2021

Friday, January 8th
Practice Report: Jan. 7, 2021

After a tremendous rookie campaign with the Fort Wayne Komets, forward Alan Lyszczarczyk’s rights were dealt to the Idaho Steelheads. But with Idaho opting out of the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19, Drake Berehowsky began to make arrangements to bring Lyszczarczyk to Orlando.

Lyszczarczyk, pronounced wish-CHAR-chek in his native Polish, began the 2020-21 season playing for his hometown club, but when the Solar Bears head coach and general manager got in touch with Lyszczarczyk’s agent, it was familiar territory for player and coach. Berehowsky had previously coached Lyszczarczyk when the pair were with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves.

The opportunity to come back to the United States - where his family has a home in New Jersey - was certainly a plus, and playing for a former coach in the warm weather of Florida was a major selling point for Lyszczarczyk, who turns 23 next month.

So what can Solar Bears fans expect from Lyszczarczyk?

In the 2019-20 season he put up 46 points in 57 games for Fort Wayne, and many of his goals made the nightly newsreels, where his creativity was regularly on display.

Lyszczarczyk has spent much of this week skating on a line in practice with Tyler Bird and Aaron Luchuk, two offensively creative players in their own right.

“Those two guys are great players, and I feel comfortable playing with them,” Lyszczarczyk said. “I think we should be able to combine for some goals this weekend. Everyone in the locker room has been helpful and nice.”

Berehowsky is pleased to be reunited with his former player.

“He’s got a knack for finding the back of the net, and he’s an extremely hard worker,” Berehowsky said. “When I coached him in Sudbury, he was also a well-liked guy in the dressing room.”

Lackey learning the ropes

Michael Lackey had been chomping at the bit to get in his first professional game, after beginning the season third on the Solar Bears’ depth chart behind Clint Windsor and Garret Sparks.

Following Sparks’ loan to the Calgary Flames, the opportunity opened for Lackey to get into game action, making his pro debut in Orlando’s 7-4 home win against Florida last Wednesday.

The Washington, D.C. native was thankful for the offense provided by his teammates to help secure the win.

“I was really excited to play in that first game, maybe a little nervous too. I thought I played okay, but the team in front of me played very well,” Lackey said. “You’re not going to lose many games when your team scores seven goals.”

His next outing was not as successful, as the Solar Bears struggled to get shots to the net in the first two periods on Saturday in Estero, prompting the coaching staff to swap Lackey for Clint Windsor in the third period, as Orlando fell 3-0.

It was trial by fire the following day back in Orlando, as the Solar Bears surrendered three power-play goals in under two minutes in the first period, and Lackey came into the game following Windsor’s ejection for scrapping with the Everblades’ Kyle Neuber.

“I thought he still did a great job - it’s unfortunate he found himself in those situations over the weekend, and we expect him to be solid in net,” Berehowsky said. “He played well in the exhibition games, and so far in the regular season, and we need him to be able to ease the workload for Clint.”

Although his numbers heading into this week might not be eye-popping, they’re reflective of an extremely small sample size of games under some fairly unusual circumstances. Solar Bears head coach Drake Berehowsky is confident his rookie goaltender can continue to improve.

In the ECHL, teams don’t typically have the benefit of having a goaltending coach on staff; many first-year goaltenders need to be proactive in their approach to develop and diagnose areas of their game that require improvement. 

Self-reliance is key, but having a team’s goaltenders work together in harmony is imperative to their growth, and Lackey is thankful that he’s been able to receive a mentor in Clint Windsor, who himself was technically still a rookie last year.

“It’s definitely been a little different not having a goalie coach, but Clint and Garret are some of the best goalies I’ve played with and have been playing professional hockey for years,” Lackey said. “It’s been super helpful asking them questions and hearing their input on everything from how they play specific situations to their game routines. It’s been extremely helpful to have these guys as partners.”

Windsor, now the elder statesman in the Solar Bears’ crease, was complimentary of his young protégé. 

“‘Lacks’ is a very hard worker, and he comes to the rink every day and works hard on the ice,” Windsor said. “We discussed a few technical things about each other’s games and have made them a priority this week to work on in practice. I think we have a great bond and are working as a unit to help give our team a chance to win each and every night.”

Berehowsky points to the relationship between his goaltenders as an example about the culture that he’s tried to establish.

“That’s one thing that we care about here in Orlando, the players’ character - we want to make sure that players coming in realize the expectations for them, not just as players, but as people.”

Auk eager to step in

The Solar Bears claimed Mark Auk off waivers from the Rapid City Rush on Tuesday afternoon, and after getting into his first practice with his new club on Thursday, the defenseman is looking to pick up where he left off with his previous team, where he was tied for the league lead in assists among defensemen with five.

“I’ve already felt welcomed by the team, and I’m excited to be here and blessed to have the opportunity,” Auk said. “I want to be able to contribute a strong defensive game, while adding some offensive capabilities with a strong first pass out of the ‘D’ zone.”

Berehowsky, who briefly acquired Auk last March from the Adirondack Thunder before flipping him that same day to the Black Hills for goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos, is looking forward to actually being able to deploy Auk on his roster.

“We need some offense on the back end, and I understand he defends pretty hard as well,” Berehowsky said. “We were looking for an all-around defenseman that can play in all situations and be counted on to shut down other teams’ top guys or be able to carry the puck out of the zone and play lots of minutes.”

McInnis healthy, embracing first season

After suffering an injury in training camp that forced him to the IR to begin the season, Luke McInnis has been activated and feels ready to go.

“In terms of my health, I’m ready to go this weekend,” McInnis said. “I think that the team allowed me to get back to full health before jumping back into practice, making my transition back on the ice an easy one.”

The rookie blueliner could potentially make his pro debut in one of this weekend’s games, but the Boston College product knows he’s going to have to fight to earn a regular spot in the lineup. He’s been getting some good pointers from a former college teammate.

“I played with Kevin Lohan in college for a year, so knowing him has definitely helped,” McInnis said. All of the other defensemen have also been great giving me tips and things I should work on and be looking out for.”

“He competes hard in practice, and that’s what I like the most,” Berehowsky said. “He’s a good kid, and he wants his opportunity, and hopefully he’ll be able to take it.”

Final thoughts

Berehowsky knows his players are looking forward to Friday’s rematch with the Evebrlades and Saturday’s visit to Jacksonville. He can see it following consecutive days of grueling practices.

“I thought we’ve had some pretty spirited practices all week,” Berehowsky said. “I expect the guys to be ready to go, and hopefully they’re hungry and we’re able to come away with some wins.”

Windsor echoed his coach’s sentiments.

“Nobody was happy with the way we played this past weekend, especially on our home ice,” Windsor said. “We had a hard week of practice focusing on all areas of the ice - we have a big weekend ahead of us and we are prepared for the challenge.

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