ORLANDO, Fla. – As August gets going, the offseason news for the Orlando Solar Bears continues to pour in. During July, the Solar Bears announced the return of six players from last year. Forwards Chris LeBlanc, Trevor Olson, and Dylan Fitze will join defensemen Mike Monfredo, Alexander Kuqali, and Kevin Lohan on the ice at the Amway Center. Now, August opens with the news that forward Alex Schoenborn will also be in the mix.
Monfredo had a stellar season last year, playing in 71 games regular season and playoff games, and breaking the team record for most penalty minutes in a single season (207). As the team captain, Monfredo has proven to be a player that many of the rookies look up to. With pro hockey experience going back to 2012 when he played for the Quad City Mallards, he looks to make it to the 500-games-played milestone this season.
Kuqali, another seasoned blueliner for the Solar Bears, came to Orlando from a future considerations trade with the Fort Wayne Komets in January. The defenseman registered eight points (two goals, six assists) in the 22 games he played during the regular season and chipped in five assists during the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Kuqali and Monfredo together should be solid, reliable anchors for the Solar Bears around their net.
The announcement of LeBlanc provides head coach Drake Berehowsky with some much-needed leadership on the offensive side. LeBlanc served as one of the team’s alternate captains last year, and this will be his third season with the club. LeBlanc brings a solid two-way play to the ice along with the kind of consistency and effort that the club needs. It is clear that disciplined intensity is a key for the Solar Bears in the upcoming season, and LeBlanc will be a crucial ingredient in providing that.
Olson saw his season cut short due to an injury in March, so some fans might not remember the offensive firepower he can provide. At the time of his injury, he was second on the team in goal scoring, and you can expect him to make an immediate impact when play starts in October.
Lohan and Fitze bring some committed two-way play to the team, while Schoenborn brings intensity along with a willingness to play a physical game along the boards or in front of the opposition’s net.
In addition to the returning players, the Solar Bears will also see some newcomers this upcoming season. Forward Jimmy Lodge, a free agent, signed with the Solar Bears in the 2019-20 season. Lodge has ECHL and AHL experience with the Kalamazoo Wings, Jacksonville Icemen, and the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. When questioned about how he felt playing for Orlando, Lodge stated on the team’s website:
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to join the Solar Bears organization this season… I’m looking forward to the start of training camp”.
Berehowsky is not afraid to make drastic roster changes in the off-season. In the 2017 off-season, he only brought a small trickle of players back for the following year. Clearly, he is growing comfortable with some of the critical components of his team. If the current signing trends continue, there will have many players who are familiar with his systems. Solar Bears fans should expect a quick start in October.
At this point, there are three key components that Berehowsky still needs to address.
First, we are awaiting the announcement of his assistant coach. Berehowsky is specifically looking for someone who can make an immediate impact in organizing the special teams, which was a sore spot last year. He also needs an assistant who is effective in motivating discipline and full-time intensity.
Second, the team could use another reliable veteran who will inspire fire on the ice. At times last year, the team struggled to put together solid 60-minute games, and some additional veteran leadership will help in this area.
Finally, look for him to acquire some players to bring offensive speed to the team. He is stressing blueliners and forwards who have good size and two-way play. But the Solar Bears would benefit from some added quickness to help spark the offense.
You can stay up-to-date on all of the Solar Bears and ECHL player signings by checking out our 2019 ECHL Transactions page!
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