Solar Bears Summer Update
While the NHL is getting ready to return to the ice to restart the 2019-20 season, and the AHL is in a holding pattern, it’s offseason business as usual for the ECHL.
The Orlando Solar Bears are one of a handful of ECHL teams who have already begun to lay the groundwork for the 2020-21 season, signing six players and acquiring another by trade since the free agency period began in mid-June.
Of the six free agent signings, four are returning players from last year’s team. Two days into the free agent signing period, the Solar Bears announced that captain Chris LeBlanc, defensemen Alexander Kuqali, and defender Kevin Lohan will be returning for another season.
LeBlanc, who will be entering his fourth season with Orlando, had 14 goals and 21 assists in 52 games, and was named team captain in early January after his predecessor, Mike Monfredo, was dealt to Greenville.Kuqali will be starting his second full season with the Solar Bears after arriving in a trade with Fort Wayne in January 2019. He had an injury riddled 2019-20 season, with four goals and two assists in 26 games, and was the recipient of the team’s Rob Kenny Memorial Award for community service. Also, he was a part of the most emotional moment of the season, just prior to the shutdown.
Like Kuqali, Lohan will be starting his second full campaign with Orlando after joining the team in a trade with Toledo in December 2018. The defenseman had one goal and six assists in 49 appearances.
Also returning is last season’s leading scorer, Trevor Olson. In his second professional season, the forward set a career high with 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) in 59 games, and was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player.
The first new player signing is the first rookie to join the team, defenseman Paul Meyer. The Minnesota native comes to central Florida by way of Colgate University, where in his senior season he appeared in 36 games, with a goal and five assists, and lead the team with 62 blocked shots.
The second new face on the Solar Bears is veteran forward Peter MacArthur. He returns to the ECHL after spending one season in Italy with the Val Pusteria Wolves of the Alps Hockey League, where he had 3 goals and 12 assists in 17 games. He had previously announced his retirement following the 2018-19 season, but ended up making a comeback a few months later overseas.
The native of Clifton Park, NY began his pro career with Bridgeport at the end of the 2007-08 season, then split time the next two seasons between Rockford and ECHL Fresno. After playing in San Antonio in 2010-11, he split the following season between Peoria and Lake Erie in the AHL and ECHL Las Vegas before going overseas to Germany and Austria for the next four seasons. MacArthur then returned home in 2015, joining the Thunder in their first season in Adirondack after moving from Stockton, and served as team captain in 2016-17. After one season with Allen, he returned to the Thunder for the 2018-19 season before temporarily hanging up the skates.
The seventh member of the roster is defenseman Tommy Panico, who was acquired from Newfoundland for future considerations. Panico just completed his second full pro season, where he had 3 goals and 1 assist in 39 games for the Growlers. After completing a four-year collegiate career at UMass-Lowell in 2016-17, the New Jersey native appeared in one game for Iowa and 9 games for Worcester, then joined the Railers for his first full season in 2018-19.
At the end of June, Orlando extended qualifying offers to 8 players: goaltender Clint Windsor; defensemen Brandon Anselmini and Cody Donaghey; and forwards Tyler Bird, Taylor Cammarata, Jake Coughler, Hunter Fejes, and Brent Pedersen. Windsor and Pedersen have already signed AHL contracts (Windsor with Syracuse, Pedersen with Manitoba), but by being qualified, Orlando will keep their ECHL playing rights.
SOLAR BEARS SIGN GOALTENDER MICHAEL LACKEY
Lackey, 23, is coming off his final season of college hockey as a graduate transfer to Providence College, where he went 16-12-6 in 34 appearances with the Friars program, and recorded two shutouts, a 2.18 goals-against average and a save percentage of .922. The goaltender was twice named Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week. In January, Lackey led Providence to the Fortress Invitational tournament championship in Las Vegas, defeating No. 2-ranked Cornell University in the title match with a 27-of-29 performance.
In 76 career college games with Providence and Harvard University, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound backstop went a combined 35-28-11 with four shutouts, a 2.41 goals-against average and a save percentage of .914.
The native of Washington, D.C. spent his junior career with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and appeared in 34 games in the United States Hockey League, logging a 10-15-2 record with 3.96 goals-against average and a save percentage of .860. Lackey also led Team USA to the gold medal at the 2014 World U-17 Hockey Challenge, going 4-0-0 with a tournament-best goals-against average of 0.75 and a save percentage of .958.
The Orlando Duo
Family Fun with the Orlando Solar Bears
Even though both of us grew up in the Midwest and are big sports fans, it wasn’t until we got to Orlando that we started following hockey. One big reason for our conversion to hockey is Orlando’s ECHL team the Orlando Solar Bears. What started as an excuse to go out and see a sport for pretty cheap quickly turned into a regular occurrence for us during the entire season.
If you’re looking for fun family activity during the fall/winter/spring months, you can’t go wrong with the Orlando Solar Bears.
Who are the Orlando Solar Bears? Are They in the NHL?
The Orlando Solar Bears are a minor league hockey team who play their games at the Amway Center from the fall (usually October) through the late spring or early summer (depending on if they make the playoffs or not). Just like the minor leagues in baseball, the Orlando Solar Bears have an affiliation with a professional team — the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
Because they are a minor league team, the players have a tendency to move between the various minor league levels and overseas. This means it’s pretty rare for a player to be on the team from year to year. It doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the game, but it’s definitely a different way to watch a sport.
What Makes Orlando Solar Bears So Great for Families?
First and foremost, you don’t have to be a hockey fan to have fun at an Orlando Solar Bears game. Outside of the action on the ice, there are plenty of other entertainment options happening like BEAR-a-oke and dancing on the jumbotron and junior hockey matches, dancing and Solar Bears Soccer between periods.
This “something-for-everyone” experience works for the whole family, young and old alike.
Hockey is the perfect sport for younger kids because it’s constantly moving and has very few stops. Unlike the back and forth of basketball which seems to stop every 90 seconds for a foul or timeout, hockey rarely has a penalty, and timeouts are few and far between.
There are also plenty of dance breaks and silly games to keep them entertained when there is a break from the action.
You also can’t forget about the Orlando Solar Bears’ mascot Shades! Shades is an adorable polar bear with a too-cool-for-school set of sunglasses. Shades will be out on the ice at various times during the game’s breaks, but he’ll also be roaming the stands on occasion as well and is always ready for a selfie.
Younger kids are also more likely to get excited about the special jersey promotions the Solar Bears do throughout the season. Marvel Night, Star Wars Night and many others come with themed promotions and special jerseys!
As they get older, kids will start to appreciate the intricacies of the game and the strategy behind it. They’ll have just as much fun figuring out the defensive positioning on a line change as the young kids will that players are coming on and off the ice. They, too, will appreciate hockey’s flow and they’re the most likely to get amped up when a fight starts to happen.
What About Mom and Dad?
Other than being able to spend a night with the family, mom and dad can appreciate the value you get with an Orlando Solar Bears game. The tickets to a game are very affordable and can often be found with a special BOGO deal. It’s not unheard of to get great seats for only $15 or $20.
Another positive for your wallet is that hockey is a sport that’s best enjoyed from up high, so you don’t have to feel bad about getting the nosebleeds!
Amway Center has plenty of food and drink options. You’ll be able to keep the kids fed and grab a beer or two for yourselves throughout the night.
Between the action, giveaways, goals and, of course, the fights, a night of hockey is a perfect family outing. It’s something you can bring someone of any age to whether you’re a family of six, four or only two.