Saturday, November 19, 2011

Big goings-on in O-Town

Yes, I'm slow on the draw on this, and I'm sorry that the whole trying-to-find-a-job-while-doing-part-time-work got in the way the last two days, but a dynamic three-headed ownership group announced Wednesday that Orlando will be back in the minor-league hockey business in the 2012-13 season, and the team will have a familiar name.


The Orlando Solar Bears' old logo,
 along with their colors and jerseys,
will get a facelift and be released in
the coming months.
Bob Ohrablo, Jason Siegel and Joe Haleski unveiled the new Orlando Solar Bears to the community at an Amway Center press conference on Wednesday. The Solar Bears were an entry in the International Hockey League from 1995-2001. In fact, the last time they skated off the ice, they left with the Turner Cup, the IHL championship trophy. The following year, so many teams either defected to the American Hockey League or simply folded, leaving too few teams for there to even be an IHL, and the Solar Bears went into hibernation.

Until Wednesday.

This time around, the Solar Bears will be in the ECHL (formerly the East Coast Hockey League but now known by its initials), an affiliate league for the NHL. Those in baseball circles will understand when I call it Class AA ball, right below the AHL.


I know that Florida is foreign territory to hockey -- and ice -- but I guarantee the new, improved, affiliated Solar Bears are going to do right in, by and for the community. The Orlando market is the perfect size for this type of endeavor, evidenced by the 20 years of unending, incredible support the Orlando Predators have received. The Tampa Bay Lightning played an exhibition game at the Amway in September -- in front of 12,000 fans. This is a hockey market. It always was.

I attended many old Solar Bears games. Friday and Saturday nights at the old Amway building were nothing short of mad houses to get in. And this was just for a collection of players put together by hockey execs who couldn't break into the NHL. Fan support will only be stronger with the knowledge that players they watch and support could soon be in The Big League. (The Bears' NHL and AHL affiliate teams will be announced sometime this spring.)

The buzz will only build over the next 12 months. A couple of very local good writers I know for Prohockeynews.com, Don Money and Monique Griffin (read their introductory stories here and here), will be covering their every move from now until they take the ice, and then after that with game coverage.

But, the Solar Bears aren't the only noteworthy sports news in the Orlando area this week. The 29th playing of the Florida Classic will pack upwards of 70,000 Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman University fans into the Citrus Bowl to see a little football and the halftime Battle Of The Bands. How important is this game to its fans? It kicks off today (Saturday) at 2:30 p.m. Folks started arriving to tailgate in RVs on Thursday morning.

And, continuing the theme of amateur athletics, with the state high school volleyball tournaments wrapping up this weekend at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, the state's best football players -- a Who's Who of the country's best college recruits -- will descend on the Citrus Bowl Dec. 9-17. Nothing exhibits the emotion of the many senior players with other callings who know they are taking the field for the last time in their lives, with the chance of being forever called a champion on the line.

Among the Orlando-area teams still in the hunt after playoff wins on Friday playing next week: Timber Creek at Olympia, Dr. Phillips at Class 8A favorite Tampa Plant, East Ridge at Evans and Osceola at 7A stalwart Lakeland.

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