By Luke Dixon, Staff Writer
The NHL lockout has made it into December–that’s almost become an after though for southern hockey fans at this point.
Both the American Hockey League and ECHL are both 20+ games into their respective seasons. For the minor pro teams of Florida, there is still a lot to be excited about as the calendar turns to December despite the current standing of the Everblades and Solar Bears.
The Florida Everblades are currently fourth in the ECHL’s South Division standings 8-7-1-4 (W-L-OTL-SOL), but hold the eighth and final playoff spot in conference standings.
The Blades started off the season in as good a fashion as any defending champion team could earning at least one point in five of their first seven games. When the calendar turned to November, the Blades cooled off winning only four of their 12 games in the month. In their second-longest road trip of the season, a six game road trip at division rivals the South Carolina Stingrays and Greenville Road Warriors, and a rare ride to visit the Colorado Eagles, Florida earned only 5 of a possible 12 points in the stretch. The Blades ended November at home in shootout loss against the aforementioned Road Warriors. Florida came back the next night to avenge the shootout loss defeating Greenville 4-3 in regulation getting three of four points in the two game set.
The Everblades continue their defense of the Kelly Cup as they are back on the road for their longest road trip they will have this season. They’ll begin Wednesday at the Reading Royals, and then continue onto Wheeling, West Virginia to take on the Nailers in two-game weekend set this Friday and Saturday. Florida will mark the halfway point of the trip as they take on the Florida Panthers’ ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones on December 12 and 14. The road trip concludes at Toledo as the Everblades meet the Walleye for the first time this season.
Florida then returns home to take-on their new intrastate rival Orlando in the first of five straight games with the Solar Bears between Germain Arena and Amway Center. Mathieu Roy currently either leads or is tied for first among the Blades in all three major scoring categories with 9 goals and 17 assists for 7th best in the league at 26 total points. Roy only trails Gwinnett’s Casey Pierro-Zabotel (27) for the South Division lead in points.
Speaking of the South Division’s newest member, the Orlando Solar Bears are 22 games out of hibernation with a 9-10-2-1 record thus far. The Bears started off solidly, with three points(1-1-1-0) in their first three games, all at Germain Arena against the Everblades. The ECHL version of the Solar Bears notched its first win in their third game of the opening weekend, an 8-2 offensive explosion.
Orlando returned home the next night for their home opener, also against Florida. In front of a sold out Amway Center, the Solar Bears earned their first home victory 4-3 via a dramatic 12-round shoot out after regulation and a 5-minute overtime left the scored tied at 3. Through October, Orlando won 4 of its 7 games and earned points in all but one of their games during the first month of the season sitting with an overall record of 4-1-1-1.
In November, the Solar Bears won only four out of 14 games. Orlando lost four of their first five games in November against their division rivals the Gwinnett Gladiators and South Carolina Stingrays. The Solar Bears bounced back to win three of their next four, including back-to-back wins against the Kalmazoo Wings. The worst stretch for Orlando came during the third week of the month as they a season-high lost four games in a row. The Solar Bears finished November by snapping that streak with a win over the Las Vegas Wranglers to begin their two-game stint in Nevada. The Wranglers won the second game of the series as they shut out Orlando 4-0. The Solar Bears are just two points behind the Everblades for the eighth and final playoff spot as they return home December 7th starting a three-game weekend set with the Fort Wayne Komets. Orlando then returns to road for the first of its two season-long six game road trips. They’ll be at the Elmira Jackals, Reading, and the Trenton Titans before returning south to take Florida in the aforementioned five straight games with the Everblades.
The Florida-Orlando five-game series begins December 19 with the first three games (Dec 19, 21, 22) in Estero before the teams shift to Orlando for the final two (Dec. 27, 28). Left winger Nick Petersen leads the Solar Bears with 10 goals and 11 assists. His 21 points are tied for 15th in the league thus far.
Check out www.orlandosolarbearshockey.com and www.floridaeverblades.com for more information about both the Solar Bears and Everblades upcoming games this holiday season. Also check back on Sunbelt Hockey Journal for the latest professional southern hockey news each and every day!