Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Orlando Solar Bears open Oct. 13 in Estero; host ECHL champs on Oct. 20 in Amway opener

First they got the name back, and then they got a new logo and some uniforms.

Then, they got an NHL franchise to align with.

Wednesday, the Orlando Solar Bears learned who'd they play and when they'd play them, so now they can stop talking about when they "hit the ice in mid-October."

Opening Night, October 13.

Home Opener, October 20. Get your tickets.

The ECHL released its schedule on Tuesday, and gave the Solar Bears, reviving as a franchise after an 11-year hibernation, the honor of opening the season against the defending league champions.

Orlando will play in Estero against the Southern Division rival Florida Everblades, the newly-minted 2011-12 Kelly Cup champions, to open the season. They'll play again the following Friday (Oct. 19) before boarding a nortbound bus on I-75 for the Solar Bears' first game in the Amway Center the following night.

Those two teams also play four games in March (26th-30th) to close the regular season. They play 16 times total (nine at Germain Arena, seven at Amway Center). Other notable parts of the schedule include:
  • A three-game trip to Western Conference opponents Las Vegas (Nov. 29-30) and Ontario (Dec. 1). Last year's schedule had no play across the Eastern and Western Conferences.
  • A stretch from Dec. 14 to Jan. 15 in which the O-Bears play 13 of 15 games on the road. From Feb. 13 to March 3, the team will enjoy a nine-game home stand.
  • A Thanksgiving Day game at 7 p.m. in Gwinett, Ga. against the Gladiators.
  • A Monday afternoon (3 p.m.) game on Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 21) against the Wheeling (W.Va.) Nailers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sign Dwight and fix the Magic

I purposely waited a day or so to write about the elephant in the room of Orlando sports right now, the shakeup at One Magic Place.

I can't say I'm shocked that Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith no longer hold gainful employ with the Magic. I'm a little surprised in the order that things have been done -- or haven't been done.

I thought that the Dwight Howard situation -- sign him, trade him, sign him then trade him -- would get resolved first; I'll come back to this. Then the team would offer SVG the chance to return -- a chance I thought Stan would respond to by telling the suits, "Get bent." -- which is what the team would tell Otis Smith, then go find their new GM, who would find the new coach.

So simple. Too simple, so I guess it wasn't possible.

Van Gundy will go from here and write his own ticket, be it in coaching, doing TV, writing a self-help book, running for Congress, etc. He'll be the same success wherever he goes as he was here, leaving as the franchise's all-time leader in coaching victories. This team needs SVG more than he needs the Magic.

And now, back to Dwight to finish this little epic up. Sign him. I SAID SIGN HIM, DAMNIT!

If the bluster is true, Howard got what he wanted, the prospect of a new coach and GM. To get rid of him after giving him what he wants is ludicrous. And if you get rid of him now, you're telling the fan base, "We're blowing it up. No hope for a while. See you in 2016." All those empty seats will be great when it comes time to rationalize building that new arena.
You keep Dwight Howard. Who else plays like Dwight Howard? His presence in the paint means you can run whatever offense you want, and he can bail out the rest of the guys on a poor shooting night. On defense, he's twice as good as the second-best defensive player in the NBA. (What can I say, I'm right and I'm not afraid to admit it.)

Besides, go ahead and try to trade him. What can you get in return that works in the fabric of the salary cap? Brook Lopez? Tyson Chandler? Puh-leeeze. Andrew Bynum and his weak knees? Maybe it's a deal if the Lakers also offer Pau Gasol AND they take Hedo Turkoglu's contract; then again, I'd pay $100 for a concert ticket if Hendrix came back.

It just won't work. It can't work. Sign him longterm (and do it this summer) or just admit that he's gonna walk Shaq style. And speaking of Shaq, if he's the next Magic GM, then I'll be the next Pope.

At least the Amway Center does host a winner, and with the Orlando Predators at 1-8, it ain't them. The Center was named Sports Facility of the Year at the Sports Business Awards in Manhattan on Wednesday. One of the buildings it beat out? The Superdome.

... As for another tenant of the Amway Center, the Orlando Solar Bears will have a little lather worked up when they meet their instate rivals next year: the Florida Everblades claimed the ECHL Kelly Cup Wednesday night with an overtime win over the Las Vegas Wranglers. Get your championship gear, folks.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Need a nap? Take it in the courtroom.

So, you're not smart enough to get out of jury duty, and there you are at the start of the morning in the courthouse bullpen awaiting your fate.

A fellow in the Roger Clemens perjury trial has your guide to making it a short day: fall asleep.

Here's the complete checklist, gleaned from our sleepy friend and my experience at the Orange County Courthouse ...

1. Get called into a jury pool about 2 hours into the day.
2. Be attentive, give good answers when you're questioned, and make the jury.
3. During the trial, fall asleep. Snore if needed to call attention to your plight.
4. Get thrown off the case. They'll send you back down to the bullpen.
5. By this time, they know they have enough jurors for the day's cases, and you get sent home. It's about 1 p.m. The rest of the day is yours to hit the couch, watch ESPN and eat Doritos.

Friday, May 11, 2012

This just in: Tiger is not winning

So on Thursday, I arrived early at the Orlando Solar Bears' announcement of their NHL affiliate, and the usual gaggle of TV, radio, and newspaper people were making less idle chatter than they were tapping on their smartphones, aghast at the thought of missing something, when one of the TV guys (without naming names, he's on an odd-numbered Orlando channel) says out loud, "Tiger shot 74."

Like anyone cares about a +2 round, or the guy who shot it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Out of Hibernation, Into the Wild

Jim Mill was at the Orlando Solar Bears' very first training camp in 1995, trying to earn a roster spot.

Now 22 years later, he'll be back watching the new version of the team play, with a vested interest.

Mill's Minnesota Wild, for whom he is an assistant to GM Chuck Fletcher, was announced Thursday as the NHL affiliate of the new Solar Bears, who will play in the ECHL this October when the 2012-13 starts up. Minnesota did not have an ECHL affiliate last year, but they did have an American Hockey League affilliate, the Houston Aeros, which will serve as the midpoint on a hockey player's journey in the NHL from Orlando to Minnesota.

Solar Bears Managing Partner said a longtime relationship between he, Mill and Chief Operating Officer Bob Ohrablo helped pave the way toward aligning the Bears with the Wild.

"We've known Jim a while; it's a small community," he said. "We had a list of values that we thought would make a terrific partner. We wanted an NHL team that owned their AHL team."

Mill said the Wild wanted to seize the chance to create a complete line of teams from the ECHL up.

"We think it's important to have a base of players in our system," he said. "There's a world-class environment and facilities here, and the ease of travel between Houston and Orlando was a factor; there's non-stop flights every hour."

Mill said the Wild will assign the organization's fifth-best goalie to the Solar Bears, along with two or three defense and two or three forwards the deem as top prospects. He said the team will succeed because, in short, it will win.

"Our business is all about winning and developing winners, not hockey players," he said. "The same winning tradition we build in Houston is what we intend to develop here."

And Ohrablo said since that will be most important to the fans, it's most important to the administration.

"We strongly believe that affiliating with the Wild will provide us with a solid core of players from which we can build a competitive and exciting team for our fans," he said.

And with the three tiers of the organization in place, let the irony begin: in 1999, the Solar Bears trailed in the Turner Cup finals 3-0 before storming back to force a Game 7, which they lost. The opponent? The Houston Aeros.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Magic are done ... so check out the Solar Bears

The Orlando Magic finished one of the messiest, more tumultous season's in team history Tuesday. with an ugly 105-87 loss to the Indiana Pacers that was actually a game for three quarters. Orlando hung around, played enough defense and hit enough shots to dodge and parry with the Pacers ... and then Indiana got serious or something and outscored Orlando 36-16 in the fourth quarter.

The Magic showed heart and I wanted them to win, but it's probably best that this offseason start as quickly as possible. They MAY have to find a new head coach, they WILL have to find a new GM, and they DEFINITELY have to draw up Dwight Howard's exit strategy, or a long-term contract. If they want to remain competitive -- and they can if the rest of the team stays remotely intact -- they have to keep Dwight. His defensive presence changes shots at that end, and his rebounding makes it possible for Orlando to hoist hundreds of 3-pointers a night; Dwight can clean the glass and get second chance buckets. The Magic were never really competitive in the Indiana series after Game 1 because all they got were first chances (and hit very few of them).

Oh, and Jameer Nelson and J.J. Reddick are in the last years of their contracts, and Ryan Anderson is a restricted free agent. There's a lot of chess pieces to move.

Now we're on to the next season here in town (well, besides UCF football). The Orlando Solar Bears, who will return to the ice in mid-October for the 2012-13 ECHL season, will announce who their NHL and AHL team affiliates will be at an intimate gathering at the Ice Den at RDV Sportsplex in Maitland on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. The announcement is open to the public.

I'd say the leading front runners for the NHL team are the Florida Panthers (who currently share the Cincinnati Cyclones with Nashville), Carolina, and Tampa, who share the Florida Everblades in Ft. Myers right now, and they'd probably push to keep Tampa, of the two.

Should it be the Florida Panthers, their AHL team is in San Antonio.
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