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Former Solar Bears compete in new high-stakes summer league

Wednesday, August 17th
Former Solar Bears compete in new high-stakes summer league

If the thought of waiting another two months for the drop of the puck on the 2022-23 Orlando Solar Bears season sounds completely unbearable, you can whet your hockey appetite (and watch some former Solar Bears while you’re doing it) this weekend, when the Patrick Cup playoff championship will be held in Las Vegas and airs nationally on CBS beginning at 4 p.m. ET.

The Patrick Cup is the championship trophy of 3ICE, a brand-new touring summer circuit built around free-wheeling offense and played in the 3-on-3 overtime format, consisting of two eight-minute halves with a running clock.

There are six teams in the league, each with six skaters and a goalie, and each team is named and coached by a former NHL star. There are no power plays, only penalty shots; intentional icings and a missed shot on an empty net from behind center ice also lead to a penalty shot. Ties are broken with a one-round shootout.

One of the major rules that keeps the pace in 3ICE constantly moving is a “half court rule,” prompting teams to go full-tilt in the offensive zone and not regroup as is often seen in the 3-on-3 sudden-death format seen in the NHL, AHL and ECHL.

The roster composition of the teams is a mix of pro players, many of whom have played in the ECHL and AHL (and some with some NHL experience), players who play overseas in Europe and some recent college hockey graduates hoping to use this opportunity as a springboard to full-time employment during the winter months.

The stakes are fairly high too, for an upstart league in its inaugural year – the players on the winning team will each receive $127,000, on top of their league salaries and the tiered payouts they earn for any team wins achieved each week during the regular season. Not a bad incentive for some summer hockey.

For some added fun, the leading goal-scorer in 3ICE wears a golden helmet for that weekend’s slate of games, until they are surpassed. The final wearer of the golden helmet receives a cash prize.

There are a handful of former Solar Bears competing in 3ICE this summer as well:

  • Tyler Murovich (Team Mullen) – Murovich played for the Solar Bears between the 2013-15 seasons, scoring 30 points in 65 games and was part of Orlando’s first-ever squad to qualify for the Kelly Cup Playoffs. He last played professionally in 2017-18, and currently runs his family’s ice rink in Pittsburgh.
  • Mark Auk (Team Murphy) – The “Auktopus” set a team single-season record for assists by a defenseman with 33 helpers in his lone season in Orlando in 2020-21, and has since taken his talents to Europe. He is slated to skate in Norway for the 2022-23 season.
  • Mathieu Foget (Team Fuhr) – Acquired early in the 2018-19 season, Foget ended up leading Orlando with 48 points in 66 games as a rookie, before making his way to a handful of other ECHL teams and eventually heading overseas, playing in Slovakia and Denmark.
  • J.C. Campagna (Taxi Squad) – Campagna played part of the 2017-18 season in Orlando, putting up 14 points in 15 games for the Solar Bears. He most recently suited up this past season for the Allen Americans.

The presumptive favorite entering this weekend is Team Mullen (16-5), which is riding a five-game winning streak into the playoff semifinal round. They will play the fourth-place Team Murphy (8-9).

For Auk, who has put up 17 points in 15 games for Team Murphy, it’s been a dream come true that has exceeded just about every expectation from when he was first approached by his agent about the opportunity last December.

“I was reading [the contract] and I was almost like, ‘No way this is real,’ – good pay for a 3-on-3 league? I decided yeah, why not? Then as it got closer and closer, they promoted the draft and I was actually digging out a storm drain with my dad at the apartments we own, I get a call from [3ICE commissioner] Craig Patrick saying I got drafted, and it became real, that this thing is starting to pick up some steam.

“Get to the first week, and then things went very smooth; the next week we got paid, and I felt like I was in a fever dream when I was warming up for the first game that weekend. I was like, ‘How is this real?’ – but it’s been awesome. It’s been the best summer job I’ve ever had, so it’s been great and I’m looking forward to where this thing can take off.”

For Murovich, who originally was slated to be part of the taxi squad of fill-in players before latching on permanently with Team Mullen in the early weeks of the competition, the opportunity to play with and against friends and former competition, and to be paid to do it in the summer has been thrilling.

The bonds his team has formed have been particularly strong, as Murovich at one point was the wearer of the Golden Helmet in one of the final weeks of the season before a teammate overtook him.

“We have such an unselfish group where we talked about it, and we just wanted someone on our team to get it,” Murovich said. “We had Joe [Whitney] finish with 21 goals and three of us had 20, so we knew it was going to likely end up on Team Mullen, but we just kind of wanted to make sure that it did that last weekend in Nashville, and luckily it did, and Joe will be wearing it in Vegas which will be pretty cool having it on our squad.”

Entering the weekend, it’s clear every player has all the motivation they need.

“I mean, there’s $127 grand per guy on the table, so we’re going to do everything we can,” Auk said. “With Team Mullen being the best team in the league, we’ve got to take it one game at a time. We have a group chat, so everybody’s been fired up all week – that’s all we can think about right now, so we’re excited.”

“It’s cliché, but we want to play our game. We’re playing fast, and we’re playing together, it’s been fun to play,” Murovich said. “We’ve had some unbelievable chemistry winning five out of eight of the weekends, and it’s been such a blast playing with these guys, so we just want to keep it going. We’re all bummed it’s coming to end for this season, so we just want to make the most of these last two games and see what happens here.”

There is also a fringe benefit – if only indirectly – for teams such as the Solar Bears with the establishment of 3ICE, and it’s the camaraderie that is established in the locker rooms that leads to discussions about previous career stops among players. In essence, players such as Auk and Murovich become unofficial spokesmen for the Solar Bears.

“Obviously everybody has the best things to say about [the organization] because it’s Orlando,” Auk said. “If you don’t know a guy, it’s a good conversation starter, to just talk about you know our stories from over the years, usually bring up [Solar Bears head equipment manager Adam Dexter] and whatnot, so it’s fun.”

Still need more summer hockey featuring pro-level players? There’s also Da Beauty League, which has its playoff round commence on Monday, August 22 with the John Scott Cup semi-finals.

Da Beauty League was established in 2015 to bring some of the best players spending their offseason in Minnesota together at Braemer Arena in Edina to provide some summer hockey thrills and connect with local fans.

The rosters are made up of an assortment current NHL players, minor league pros and college hockey stars, all of whom have the opportunity to deliver a personal touch by interacting with the fans in attendance that come to watch throughout the Gopher State. The six-team league, with teams named after league sponsors, also includes 2021-22 Solar Bears forward Odeen Tufto, skating for Team Walser, which plays its final game of Da Beauty League’s regular season tonight.

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