Cohen: Out of Hibernation

By Josh Cohen
November 16, 2011

ORLANDO -- It was just over a month ago when the first ever hockey game was played at the dazzling Amway Center.

It will be less than a year from now when the sport is regularly played inside the magnificent building.

And familiar to many around Central Florida, it will be the Orlando Solar Bears, a former International Hockey League team that disbanded in 2001, reincarnated to spawn modern stars on ice.

More than 10,000 people were on hand at Amway Center in late September when the Tampa Bay Lightning faced off against the St. Louis Blues in an NHL exhibition. It was a stirring success and prompted the city of Orlando and the ECHL, a minor league affiliate of the NHL, to approve membership of a new franchise.

“We are so happy to welcome Orlando as part of our league,” ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said during a press conference at Amway Center on Wednesday in front of dozens of ecstatic hockey supporters from around Central Florida.

Before folding in 2001, the Solar Bears had enjoyed several outstanding years, including capturing the IHL Turner Cup in their final season of existence.

Hockey lived on in Orlando for a few more years when the Florida Seals of the ACHL/SPHL skated around Amway Arena before relocating to nearby Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee. They dispersed completely in 2007.

But starting in October of 2012, Orlando will be a mainstay for rubber pucks, wooden sticks, ice skates and Zambonis. The Solar Bears along with a franchise in San Francisco will join the 20 other current organizations of the ECHL next season.

The partnership established between the Orlando Magic and Solar Bears, who will share Amway Center next year, has already created upwards of a 1,000 season ticket opportunities for this Orlando pro hockey team.

“We are going to continue to promote and cross-promote the Magic with the Solar Bears,” Magic President Alex Martins said. “We are going to encourage all of our season ticket holders to get involved with our pro hockey team.”

“We are very confident in this ownership group,” he added. "They have great expectations and the right business model.”

The Solar Bears will adhere to the ECHL’s South Division in the Eastern Conference and join the Florida Everblades, the only other ECHL organization in the Sunshine State, the Gwinnett Gladiators, South Carolina Stingrays and Greenville Road Warriors.

While fans should expect the same amount of enthusiasm that encircled the franchise in its past subsistence, team ownership hints there will be feeble alterations to the team’s logo and jersey when it is unveiled in the next few months.

The panel at Wednesday’s press conference, which included Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, also confirmed that there would be another NHL preseason game at Amway Center next year. The exhibition is expected to include the Lightning.

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