ESTERO and ORLANDO, FL—The Tulsa Oilers hockey club concluded their one-and-only trip outside of the ECHL Central Division this weekend venturing to the two ECHL teams in the Sunshine State, the Florida Everblades and the Orlando Solar Bears.
They were scheduled to visit the Everblades twice and the Solar Bears once, and in three games the Oilers stunned Florida with a 6-5 shootout win on January 14th, sending a message to the team with the best record in the ECHL East that the upstart Central Division were not to be ignored. Two days later the Everblades bounced back and handed Tulsa a 4-2 loss.
Unlike the two teams previous encounter the Everblades got on the board early and never really looked back. Tulsa was down by two goals thanks to goals by Mitch Wahl and Chris Kushneriuk before Oilers forward Charles Lechance flipped a shot over the glove of Everblades goalie Andy Iles to cut the lead to one by the end of the first period.
Florida would beat Tulsa goalie Kevin Carr twice more thanks to a heavy slap shot by Bobby Preece and a second goal by Wahl. Kyle Bochek, who was in his second game since returning to the Tulsa lineup in the previous game with the Everblades managed to close the gap to two goals but it wasn’t enough. It was a battle of rookie goaltenders with Iles made 18 saves on 20 shots while Carr blocked 22 of the 26 shots he faced.
From there, the Oilers mounted the motor coach and headed 166 miles to the northeast to Orlando and into the Amway Center to take on the Solar Bears. Prior to the game they received a gift of sorts when the Washington Capitals of the national Hockey League reassigned goalie Brandon Anderson to Tulsa. Anderson brought AHL experience to the team as well as playing time in Reading and South Carolina in the ECHL.
His first night in goal for Tulsa, unfortunately was not ideal, however.
On Saturday night the Solar Bears got on the board early and put the Oilers in a hole they could not climb out of. They jumped on the Oilers early as Jacob Cepis buried the first Orlando shot of the night with just 1:58 off the first period clock.
Eric Baier’s backhand pass through the slot connected with Cepis who snapped the puck past Anderson from the edge of the right faceoff circle. Anderson then settled down after the Cepis strike and stopped eight shots over the remainder of the period. Orlando captain Stefan Della Rovere whipped a shot over the glove of Anderson at 2:23 of the second period to give his squad a 2-0 edge.
Just 48 seconds after Della Rovere’s sixth goal of the season, Tulsa winger Kyle O’Kane was robbed at close range by Sparks but reeled in the loose puck and fed Matt Larke on the back post for a wide open tap-in that cut the Orlando lead in half. After Brady Vail tipped a point shot past Anderson at 9:41 to restore the Solar Bears two-goal cushion, the Oilers answered quickly. Tommy Mele beat Sparks to the blocker side at 10:59 for his 12th tally of the season and Tulsa trailed 3-2. Mele set a new career-high for goals in a single season but once again, the Oilers were unable to sustain the momentum.
Nick Larson lifted to Solar Bears back to a two-goal advantage as the middle period concluded. In the third period, Jeff Jubinville brought the Oilers back to within a goal of the lead but that would be a short-lived momentum boost as Yves Sauve scored on a slapper. Drew Fisher cut the lead back to a goal at 5-4 at 9:26 of the third period but that would be as close as the Oilers would come, as Della Rovere notched an empty net goal with one second remaining to put the finishing touches on the Solar Bears victory.
The Oilers will enter the All Star break at 19-18-4 tied for second place in the ECHL Central with the Wichita Thunder. The Oilers will be represented in the ECHL All-Star Game in Orlando by defenseman Scott Macauley, and he along with his teammates will return to the ice in regular season play on Friday night when the Oilers travel to Independence to take on the Missouri Mavericks at 7:05pm.