Monday, 13 August 2018

Finally Paired Together

In what seemed like a pairing that would be an obvious connection, the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears and NHL Tampa Bay Lightning have entered a three-year affiliation agreement! The Solar Bears, who previously were the ECHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs, saw that affiliation agreement expire and Toronto turn to the expansion Newfoundland Growlers as their ECHL affiliate. Tampa Bay was affiliated with the Adirondack Thunder last season, but with NHL teams wanting minor-league players closer to their home bases for call-ups, the opportunity to affiliate with the Orlando Solar Bears makes too much sense.

The Solar Bears are owned and operated by the Orlando Magic and the DeVos Family and play their games at the Rink at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. Amalie Arena, where the Lightning play, is a mere 90 minutes away by car as opposed to the plane flight between Adirondack and Tampa. Where this affiliation kind of veers off course is that the Lightning has the Syracuse Crunch as their AHL affiliate, and they are a flight away from Tampa but a mere two-and-a-half hours by car away from Adirondack. However, the proximity of the Lightning to their ECHL players will provide greater insight as to player development and player promotion as the Lightning identify players they want on their roster in the future.

"We are thrilled to be able to announce our new affiliation with the Lightning," Solar Bears president Chris Heller said in the release. "This relationship will not only aid in our on-ice performance, but will also help strengthen the profile of ice hockey throughout Central Florida."

While I imagine the relationship with the Lightning will indeed help the Solar Bears' on-ice performance, it's not like they were an afterthought in the Maple Leafs' eyes. I imagine this affiliation with the Lightning will continue to help the Solar Bears maintain a high level of hockey while the partnership between the two teams should hopefully improve hockey's presence throughout the panhandle. It's hard to believe that these two teams hadn't been affiliated after the Solar Bears' founding in 2012, but that's how it went with the Solar Bears being affiliated with both the Minnesota Wild and the Toronto Maple Leafs up until now.

With the Solar Bears having made the playoffs in four of the their six seasons, there's hope that the success can continue with Tampa Bay overseeing the personnel. The Thunder finished atop the North Division last season with a 41-24-3-4 record, good for seventh-best in the ECHL. They lost in the third round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs to the Florida Everblades with four of the five games being decided by one goal, so the Lightning are expecting that success to remain in place with perhaps a few players making the jump to their AHL affiliate in Syracuse.

While I await for the announcements that the Chicago Wolves and Chicago Blackhawks have finally become affiliates or for the Brampton Beast and Toronto Maple Leafs to strike an affiliation accord, the news that the Orlando Solar Bears and Tampa Bay Lightning have finally gotten together warms my heart like the Florida sun. It just never should have taken this long.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: