After a 10-year absence that began when Rich DeVos elected to move his Grand Rapids Griffins to the AHL rather than the Solar Bears when the IHL folded, Orlando will get a hockey team that features the polar bear with sunglasses. For whatever reason, the Orlando/Florida Seals never resonated with the community the same way the Solar Bears did even a decade after the team disappeared.
"The Orlando Solar Bears are coming out of hibernation," said Bob Ohrablo, Chief Operating Officer/Managing Partner of Orlando Pro Hockey Operations, L.P. "We are honored to bring the Solar Bears back to Orlando. Once the ECHL announced that we were awarded an expansion franchise, fans from throughout Central Florida made it clear to us to what the team’s name should be. We want to continue the proud tradition established by the DeVos family."
I mean, who does not love a polar bear with sunglasses? The name was unique and the hockey was exciting. It was always a good time at the Orlando Arena whenever the Solar Bears played. It certainly helped that the team was very competitive -- reaching three Turner Cup Finals and winning the final Turner Cup (although the name has been given to another trophy in honor of the IHL).
It has been a while since hockey made its home in Orlando. The Solar Bears folded in 2001. They were quickly replaced with the Florida Seals, but they never resonated with the community. The Seals struggled to fill the Orlando Arena and eventually moved to Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee. They lasted until 2006.
Rumblings of Orlando trying to get another hockey team began when the Amway Center was built. Mayor Buddy Dyer said in the press release that Amway Center was designed with hosting a hockey team in mind. That picture became clearer when the Lightning held an exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues in October and the game had an attendance of 11,688. That is pretty solid for a preseason game.
There clearly is some hunger for hockey in the city. And, of course, who doesn't love a polar bear with sunglasses?
DeVos and the Magic graciously let the new ECHL franchise use the Solar Bears name, which DeVos still owns. And the Magic seem to be in full support of their new co-tenants at the Amway Center. It is quite the time for minor league sports in Orlando with Orlando City Soccer winning the USL-Pro regular season and playoff championship and expecting a move up a division soon to further their goal of reaching MLS.
While the season is still a year away, you can purchase tickets for the Solar Bears at their Web site: orlandosolarbearshockey.com. The plan for seating is to close the upper bowl and O-Zone and limit seating to the lower bowl and suite levels. Should mean there are lots of great spots to catch the team.
No word yet if Jon Weisbrod will come back to run the team. I am sure Orlando would welcome him back with open arms (actually, not quite so sure on that one).
And, it is a polar bear with sunglasses... I mean, come on.