It was an action-packed weekend as the Orlando Solar Bears hosted the Greenville Swamp Rabbits for a two-game set. Hot temperatures in Florida means the chance of a very slippery ice surface, and on Friday, there was a lot of that as several players kept losing balance and others sliding into the boards. It was an exciting start to the game for the Solar Bears as they stole the puck; unfortunately for the Bears, they could not get complete control of the puck, and it was a bobbled shot that Swamp Rabbits netminder David Hrenak saved. About six minutes into the opening frame, the Swamp Rabbits could clear the puck, and the Swamp Rabbits got a chance when Bears goaltender Garret Sparks misplayed the puck in the corner; luckily for Sparks, there were no Greenville skaters in the area.
In the first 10 minutes, the Swamp Rabbits outskated and outshot the Bears 9-2. The Solar Bears got a power play right after the midway mark, and they came out firing eventually with 5:16 left in the first; it was Bennett MacArthur getting a shot from the faceoff circle for his seventh of the year. The Solar Bears were so close to going up 2-0 late in the first when Grant Mismash wrapped the puck around the net, and it was Hrenak making a huge save late in the frame keeping it 1-0.
The Solar Bears kept getting chances very early in the middle frame when the Bears attacker received a centering pass. The puck looked like it went in when the goal light came on, but the officials stopped the play, took a look at it, and said there was no goal leaving it 1-0. The Swamp Rabbits finally broke through on the scoreboard when it was Max Martin getting a shot from the blue line and taking a deflection off of a Solar Bears skater, getting it past Sparks and making it 1-1 with 15:12 left in the second. The Swamp Rabbits finally got their first lead of the night when Matt Kemp got a beautiful wrist shot from the slot past Sparks with 9:47 left in the middle frame.
After going up by one, Greenville kept the pressure on when they got a mad scramble around the net, ultimately saved by Sparks with 8:02 left. Late in the middle frame, it was Tyson Feist who fed the puck to Mishmash, who got a beautiful one-time blast from the bottom of the goal line to equalize the game with 1:36 left in the middle period.
The Swamp Rabbits finally broke through in the last frame when it was Jamie Dorsey shooting the puck from behind the goal line, while Sparks left the rebound wide open for Alex Ierullo for his 18th of the season. The Bears immediately responded with a scramble around the net. However, it was Hrenak up to the test again. Brett Kemp extended Greenville’s lead with 4:35 left on a wrist shot from the right circle putting Greenville up 4-2. The Solar Bears got a late chance to try and tie it up when Dorsey shot the puck over the glass, giving Orlando a massive opportunity with a power-play; making no mistake was Mishmash for his second of the game with 2:05 left and putting the Solar Bears within one. After the goal, there was continuous pressure from Orlando, who made several last-second attempts to tie the game, dropping a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to open the series.
The teams took a one-night rest while the NBA’s Orlando Magic hosted the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, February 26th; it was a nail-biter with lots of good action. Greenville got the scoring started just 37 seconds into the match when Carter Souch passed the puck from the corner to Anthony Beauchamp, who was waiting in the slot, getting it past Sparks. Greenville then took a 2-0 lead when Tyler Inamoto got a shot from the blue line and deflected it off Max Balinson into the net. There was a lot of action in the final couple minutes of the opening frame, as it was Michael Brodzinski getting a shot from the blue line for his seventh of the season and record-setting 24th power play point. It was then Tyler Bird, 37 seconds later, dragging the puck from one side of the crease to the other, sneaking it home past Hrenak to equalize the game at 2-2 with 39 seconds left on the period clock. At the end of the frame, a brawl ensued, sending Ayden MacDonald and Jimmy Mazza to the box for fighting.
The middle frame started strong for both teams when Greenville got a great chance on a one-time blast from the right circle having the puck saved by Sparks. A few minutes later, it was the Solar Bears with a 2-on-1 break, and Langan made the shot, getting stopped by Hrenak. The Swamp Rabbits finally got on the board in the middle frame when it was Eberle on a tic-tac-toe play. The Solar Bears attempted to respond as they were getting deflections in the middle frame, and for the most part, Hrenak was stopping all of them. With 5:39 left, it was Boka getting hit in the head, and another scrum happened as the Solar Bears attempted to tie the game up.
The Solar Bears got a late power play chance with 3:04 left in the second when there was some ugly hit, resulting in another scuffle, ultimately the officials giving Orlando a power-play. With the power play winding down, Brodzinski got a shot from the blue line, and Brayden Guy redirected the attempt to equalize it late in the second.
Orlando and Greenville locked up in a tie game heading into the final frame meant one thing, lots of hockey still to play, and Orlando proved that early as the Bears had a lot of solid pressure early on, gaining the advantage in shots for the period, 10-3. With 12:02 left in the third, Tanner Eberle was going to the box for holding, giving Orlando a chance to take the lead. Eventually, they did when Guy got a shot onto the goal after a nice center passes from MacArthur, making it 4-3 Orlando. With 7:36 left on the clock, Justin Nachbaur got a shot that was ultimately taken through a lot of traffic. The Solar Bears asked for a review for goaltender interference, and after review, it was a good goal after it was determined that Sparks was bumped into by his guy.
Orlando getting the chances they were having in the final frame, got a chance on the power plays with 4:26 left. However, it was killed by Greenville. With the clock ticking down, it was Foget passing it to Guy, who stuffed it in, and as Greenville was looking for the puck, they pushed it into their own goal, giving Guy his first career pro hat trick and the Solar Bears a 5-4 lead with 1:17 left in the game.
The final results held as Orlando hung on to take the total two points. Greenville is now 29-16-7-0, good for 65 points, while Orlando is now 26-22-6-1, good for 59 points.
Orlando has home games this Thursday against the Adirondack Thunder, Friday against in-state rival Florida Everblades, and an away game in South Carolina against the Stingrays.