And now for a post that will mention neither Lance Armstrong nor Manti Te'O (damn, too late) ...
Who are you and what have you done to the Orlando Solar Bears?
The revived hockey club, essentially an ECHL expansion team, had just come off a six-game road trip that had gone badly -- 1-5, losers of the last four and the last three by the combined score of 18-5.
What's worse, some of the team's best talent had been summoned to Houston of the American Hockey League (Nick Petersen) or to St. Louis of the NHL (Ryan Reaves). Continuity was not on the side of Coach Drake Berehowsky and his staff, but on the bright side the schedule will be.
Thursday, a stretch of 21 home games in 33 dates started ... and boy did it ever.
The line of Michael Neal, Dale Mahovsky, Scott Tanski and Ryan Blair accounted for six goals themselves, as the Solar Bears put the screws to the Wheeling Nailers Thursday at the Amway Center in a 7-2 rout.
Neal scored two goals and had three assists as Orlando stormed to a 3-0 lead eight-and-a-half minutes into the game and never looked back. Neal and Mahovsky each notched a +6 rating.
"Obviously it was a good night, but more importantly we got a win," Neal said Thursday. "My line was just clicking tonight and it was a lot of fun."
Orlando gave another good effort on Saturday against the Nailers, and while the Bears didn't light the lamp as much as Thursday, they did enough on offense, and especially on defense in a 3-2 overtime win.
The Solar Bears found themselves in the role of the clawing, scratching team that had to answer. After Pete Lenes gave Wheeling a 1-0 lead with a power goal goal 11 minutes into the game, Rob Mignardi, himself back from Houston, had a nice homecoming just 33 seconds later by putting home a rebound of Ryan Blair's shot. Mike Sgroi, who a week ago was working in the skate shop at the RDV Sportsplex, got the second assist. But Lenes countered this open act of defiance with another got just nine seconds later to put Wheeling back ahead.
The score stayed 2-1 until the waning minutes of the second period when Ryan Cruthers poked a loose puck in front of the goal into the net for his 100th career ECHL goal.
After 60 minutes of workmanlike effort, it would take about two more before Scott Tanski blasted a shot over the shoulder of Wheeling goalie Scott Darling to send the fans (all 9,170 of them) home happy for a second straight game.
Berehowsky said Saturday there's an indication that the Bears, 12th in the ECHL's 14-team Eastern Conference, are turning a corner heading into a long upcoming stretch of home games.
"The guys played well after not having the kind of first period we wanted," he said. ""I think the guys are starting to see what we are trying to accomplish. We've had guys in and out of the lineup so that makes it hard but we're battling and that's the main thing. I can never be mad at the guys for giving 100 percent effort."
The Solar Bears wrap up their series with Wheeling in a special Monday matinee at 3 p.m. After a trip next weekend to Gwinett and Columbia, S.C., the team comes home to play 13 of the next 14 at home and won't leave the state of Florida the entire month of February.
Hopefully the Solar Bears of mid-January will hang around awhile.