Monday, July 22, 2013

Welcome Williams and rake the Leafs

Today at a little shindig at the Amway Center, the Orlando Solar Bears did two things: they officially announced a bit of news that they already told us two months ago ... then they hit us with something unexpected that came right outta, well, Ontario.
At the same press conference where new head coach Vince Williams was introduced in the flesh as the second coach in the team's ECHL era, the team announced a second National Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While those of us who perceive to be in the know thought that it
would be the New Jersey Devils -- citing Williams' seven years on the bench of the New Jersey Devils' Trenton affiliate and part-owner Jason Siegel's management ties with the team -- or the Philadelphia Flyers -- going on geography as it's the closest NHL city to Trenton -- but in the end, what the hell do we know. Maybe I was rooting for one of the ones to give this blog another Philly connection.

Toronto Assistant General Manager Claude Loiselle was at
Monday's presser that the team will be hands-on in developing players in Orlando and will even have team staff making a presence during the season, something that we saw little to none of from the Minnesota Wild this past season.

"As an organization, we feel our Maple Leafs (um, Leaves?) prospects will surely accelerate their professional development while in Orlando," Loiselle said.

The Solar Bears become the sixth ECHL team to have two affiliate agreements. This agreement creates a sort of crescent of upper Midwest (and points north) hockey. Minnesota's American Hockey League affiliate is now the Iowa Wild (having moved from Houston where they were the Aeros). From there we can draw a line through Wisconsin and northern Michigan to Ontario, Canada where the Maple Leafs, an Original Six NHL team, and their AHL affiliate, the cross-town Toronto Marlies play.

And then there's the outpost in Orlando. At least it's a place where it will be 70 degrees in January rather than .... well, the alternate.

Vince Williams
But now back to Williams, who expects to have a line of guys at his door to play in Orlando, something he did for four games during their Turner Cup winning season in 2001 before the International Hockey League folded around them.

"There's lots of hockey players out there," he said. "Moving forward as a team we just want to keep signing the right guys for the right reasons. We want guys who want to move up, to win a championship here and be successful. I learned quickly why I want to be here, but we have to get the right guys in here. This can be the right opportunity for guys who take advantage of it. It's going to "

It doesn't hurt to play in probably one of the best buildings in the ECHL.

"Obviously (the Amway Center) is a beautiful building. And the way Jason, Joe and Bob do business gives you an opportunity to want to be here. RDV Sportplex, for pro hockey, it's second to none. It's a great hockey market that continues to grow.

Williams attended the banner raising ceremony on Feb. 2 honoring the 2001 Turner Cup champ Solar Bears last season. He kinda had to -- his Trenton Titans were the opponent that night.

"I was blown away by the passion of the fans in the building," Williams said that night.

Williams led the Titans for two years after spending the previous 5 as an assistant coach there. The Titans were 21-41-4-6 in 2011-12 and improved to 32-32-4-4 last year, but neither mark was good enough to make the playoffs. To make matters worse, ownership ceased operations after the season.

"I feel good of what we accomplished there," Williams said. "We battle through things and developed 2 players to the AHL and two to the ECHL."

The Solar Bears currently have 10 players under contract for next season. Forwards Michael Neal and C.J. Severyn and defenseman Ryan Blair are coming back. Forwards Kyle Beattie, Tyler Murovich, Mike Ullrich and Ian Slater, the latter out of Satellite Beach, and defensemen Bryce Aneloski, Corey Fienhage and Joe Marciano have also been inked.

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