Orlando, FL- The first signing was big as Garret Sparks returned to the Solar Bears. The veteran goaltender had previously played with the Bears over parts of 2013-2020, playing in 53 games with a 30-14-3 record with six shutouts, a beautiful 2.09 GAA, and an outstanding .936 save percentage. In the 2014-15 season with the Solar Bears, he had an excellent .936 save percentage in that season alone, leading the ECHL and setting an ECHL Solar Bears single-season record.
Sparks was the 2nd player to make the NHL when he started the game on November 30th, 2015, defeating the Edmonton Oilers 3-0, making him the first-ever Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender to start and earn a shutout in his NHL debut. Sparks played most of last season under contract with the LA Kings spending most of that time in the AHL. He has appeared in 40 NHL games posting a 15-18-2 record, with his 3.06 GAA and a .899 save percentage.
However, despite his NHL background, like most goalies with very few NHL games under his belt, Sparks has spent the majority of his pro career in the AHL, marking a record of 98-57-13 in 175 games with 17 shutouts, a 2.34 goals against average, and an excellent .921 save percentage. In the 16-17 season, the veteran goaltender was named to the AHL’s First All-Star Team and selected as the best goaltender, winning the Aldege Bastien Memorial Award, leading the Toronto Marlies with 31 wins, 1.79 GAA, and a .936 save percentage(All AHL Bests). Sparks also helped the Marlies win the Calder Cup Championship, playing 19 games with a 2.22 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
The Solar Bears also announced the signings of forward Branden Makara and defenseman Carson Vance. Makara, a native of Ottawa, Ontario, played in 25 games for the Pensacola Ice Flyers of the SPHL, scoring 9 points (7G,2A) while grabbing 19 penalty minutes. In four seasons in the juniors from 2013-2016 in the CCHL, he scored 36 goals and tallied 48 assists in 111 games. Makara played his college hockey at Colorado College in the 2016-2018 seasons, eventually returning home and playing for his hometown at the University of Ottawa.
Carson Vance, a native of Tempe, Arizona, has played in 43 previous ECHL games, most recently being the Fort Wayne Komets, where he played his 100th professional game against the Kalamazoo Wings on January 20th. During his pro career, he has played 52 games in the SPHL and 5 in the FPHL. In those 100 games, he has 24 points(2G,22A). Before going pro, Vance played 108 games in the NAHL, 168 games in the USHL, two seasons at Western Michigan University, and his final college season in the 2019-2020 season at SUNY-Oswego.
The Solar Bears continue their season with a game tonight, the 27th, at Savannah against the expansion Ghost Pirates team. The next home game for the Solar Bears is Sunday, the 29th, against the Atlanta Gladiators. The Solar Bears would like to remind everyone that on February 4th, against the Florida Everblades, to wear tie-dye clothing as they try and set a Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people wearing tie-dye. To be counted towards the record of 1,790 people, fans must wear two pieces of tie-dye clothing.