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Dealing with change in net

Tuesday, October 19th
Dealing with change in net

Change in the ECHL is inevitable, but sometimes it can come faster than some would like.

In a span of roughly a day last week, the Orlando Solar Bears went from having three goaltenders to one.

As the Solar Bears prepared on Friday to make their way down to Estero for a set of back-to-back games at Hertz Arena against the Florida Everblades, the club announced that goaltender Clint Windsor had left the team to pursue an opportunity overseas (subsequently announced by Slovakian HC Slovan Bratislava).

Meanwhile, about 1,200 miles north of Hertz Arena while the Solar Bears were getting underway with their preseason exhibition, the Syracuse Crunch were opening their regular season on the road against the Cleveland Monsters at RocketMortgage Fieldhouse.

In the second period of the American Hockey League contest, Syracuse goaltender Maxime Lagace limped to the locker room with an apparent lower-body injury after conceding a goal in the second period. 

A phone call from the braintrust of the Tampa Bay Lightning to Drake Berehowsky informed the Solar Bears head coach that Lightning prospect Amir Miftakhov would need to catch a flight out of Fort Myers to join the Crunch in Ohio, meaning Orlando’s other netminder, San Jose Sharks prospect Zach Émond, who was already starting that night for Orlando, was suddenly elevated to the number one spot on the depth chart.

While that might be a tall order for some, Émond seemed to relish the moment, bouncing back from Friday’s loss with a 24-save performance in Orlando’s 5-2 win over the Everblades on Saturday.

“I just had to go out there and play, I think it was a great opportunity for me to prepare to play back-to-backs, because it’s going to happen in the season,” Émond said. “I’m glad I had the chance to do it in the preseason.”

While Berehowsky acknowledged that the team is in the process of searching for a capable backup who can push Émond (in the interim the team has signed RDV Ice Den staff member Ryan Novalis to participate in practices), he was nonetheless pleased with what he saw out of his new No. 1 over the weekend.

“I liked [Émond]. I thought he was calm and he was good under pressure; he didn’t seem to panic,” Berehowsky said. “When you have a goalie like that, you can handle making a few mistakes, which will happen. We’re happy to have him, and we’re out trying to find another goalie right now, until we get some reinforcements.”

Forward Aaron Luchuk, a good friend of Windsor’s, says there’s no ill feelings towards the now-former Solar Bears netminder.

“You can [only] control what you can control, Clint had a real good opportunity over there; I don’t think anyone blames him for taking that opportunity, and we’re all very happy for him,” Luchuk said. “But it is what it is, we can’t concern ourselves too much with it, we’ll let Drake find another goalie and let him deal with that stuff, and we just gotta worry about the on-ice stuff and build as the group we’ve got here.”

Émond, meanwhile, appears eager to show what he can do while the crease belongs to him.

“I’m here to play some games and have fun, I just want to develop, and the best way to do it is to play games,” the goaltender said. “So I’m happy to have the opportunity and I’ll be ready every time I jump on the ice.”

Back to work ahead of Wednesday’s league deadline

After a busy weekend, the coaching staff gave the team a few days off to focus on rest and recovery.

Tuesday, however, it was back to work as the team’s forward units have started to come into focus.

Luchuk and forward Tristin Langan, consistently a duo on a line last season, skated alongside Tyler Bird, a combination that Luchuk seems to mesh well.

“Me and ‘Langer’ are very comfortable together, ‘Birdie’ was in and out on our line a little bit last year, so we’re very comfortable with Tyler,” Luchuk said. “It’s always that first week of getting used to each other again, but I think me and ‘Langer’ are very similar players; ‘Birdie’ is a good combination to add to that, and we’re hoping to use his speed a lot.”

Other forward lines included Kyle Topping, Joe Garreffa and Jake McGrew, while Nick Bligh joined San Jose assignees Kryštof Hrabík and Steenn Pasichnuk. Elsewhere Jackson Keane, Fabrizio Ricci, Dylan Fitze and Ian Parker rotated in and out on another line.

Berehowsky likes the balance that his team appears to have, but admitted that he liked what he saw out of Garreffa and Topping, who each tallied five points during the preseason to lead the ECHL.

“I think they’re skating well, they’re moving well, and they’re connecting with each other,” Berehowsky said of his two forwards. “The thing that impresses me the most is they’re managing the puck well and playing well in their own end.”

In prior seasons the Solar Bears had often utilized an excessively large training camp roster that forced the coaching staff to make several rounds of cuts to whittle the roster down to the compliant size needed for the ECHL’s Opening Night Roster submission deadline, typically the Wednesday afternoon prior to the first weekend of league games.

Thanks to a pair of trades made last week, along with the recalls of Miftakhov, Dmitry Semykin and Montana Onyebuchi to the AHL and the departure of Windsor, the Solar Bears are are right where the coach needs his team to be.

“We just have to make sure everybody’s ready, everybody understands their role and hopefully they accept it, and want to be a part of this.”

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