Solar Bears, Orlando roll out big All Star plans


ORLANDO, FLA – With the 2014-15 ECHL regular season set to open in the next few days, the Orlando Solar Bears took time Wednesday night to look ahead three months from now when the minor league hockey world will gather in the City Beautiful for a big AllStarparty.

During its season kickoff event, the Solar Bears rolled out more details of the events that will surround the ECHL/CCM All-Star Classic sponsored by Visit Orlando in January. The team also took the opportunity to show off the jerseys the squad will wear when it faces the best of the rest of the ECHL on January 21st at the Amway Center.

“We’re fortunate to have a lot of great partners. We’ve got the City of Orlando, Visit Orlando, the Downtown Development Board, Levy Restaurants and certainly the Amway Center who all helped us secure the bid for the game so it started there,” Solar Bears President/C.E.O. Jason Siegel. “This is all about the fans. They turned out at a great pace over the first two years and for us to get be able to go the Board of Governors and say this is how well we’ve drawn, here’s the support we have locally, here’s the corporate support we have in place, we wanted to make it as close to a no brainer to vote to bring the game to Orlando and we’re really excited for that to happen.”

The excitement has already produced a big push for tickets locally. Buoyed by a strong response from season ticket holders, the Solar Bears announced that about 6,000 seats at the game have been spoken for already. The presale numbers are music to the ears of city officials and tourism officials.

“It’s a great opportunity for the community to bring in new tourists at one of our slower time periods. To reach out to all of these (ECHL) markets, expose them to Orlando, have them follow their teams to come in is a great opportunity to have them experience the destination and bring and come and stay and help grow our economy,” Danielle Saba Courtenay, Visit Orlando’s Chief Marketing Officer, said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Courtenay said that Visit Orlando is taking advantage of the Solar Bears being affiliated with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs to boost attendance by working with the Leafs on a special promotion. Fans in Orlando’s top international tourist market will have the chance to win trips to Florida through the Leafs.

“We’re going to be doing a two month long promotion with them. In the stadium up there (Air Canada Center), we’ll be promoting travel to Orlando, giving away trips to Orlando,” she said. “They’re (city of Toronto and the Maple Leafs) very excited about it, especially with their relationship with the Solar Bears. It’s going to be really awesome.”

The use of the teams around the ECHL to market Orlando is already paying off with regards to one part of the festivities. The Orlando Youth Hockey Association’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday tournament will be directly connected to the all-star game.

Eric Baier (left) and Scott Tanski model Orlando's All-Star game jersey (Photo courtesy of Orlando Solar Bears).

Eric Baier (left) and Scott Tanski model Orlando’s All-Star game jersey (Photo courtesy of Orlando Solar Bears).

“It’s an amazing opportunity because now we’re connected with a professional team in our area. They will be bringing in all stars from all over the country that our kids watch when they go to games and now they’ll be included in the All-Star event which is amazing,” OYHA President Louis DiPaolo, who also helps to broadcast the games over the internet through their DSPN website, said. “Last year at this time we had eleven teams signed up at this time and we ended up with 50. So far we have 38 teams already signed up from all over the country. We’ve got teams from Canada coming down. It’s going to be great exposure because the NHL Network will be here to cover part of the tournament.”

After four days of youth hockey, the ECHL will hold its Fan Fest event on Tuesday, January 20th. Included in the festivities that day are a block party at the Church Street entertainment complex a block away from the Amway Center. The Hockey Hall of Fame will have an exhibit which will include an appearance by the Stanley Cup while MeiGray will have a “History of Hockey” jersey and memorabilia display. The ECHL all-stars will be available for autographs before the day ends with a concert by country music artist Madeline Smith.

Gameday Wednesday will start with morning practice and team photos. At noon, the ECHL will hold its Hall of Fame induction luncheon at the Doubletree Downtown Orlando hotel followed by a pre-game block party outside the Amway Center. Puck drop for the game itself is at 7 p.m. Between periods of the contest, the league will hold its All-Stars skills competition.

Not all of the competition will be on the ice. Team and city officials have their eyes set on the ECHL record for All-Star game attendance. The current mark is 11,493 set in 1998 by the Louisiana IceGators at the CajunDome in Lafayette. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer challenged the entire city to get behind the Solar Bears and turn out for the game.

“We need to sell this game out,” Mayor Dyer said.

By the looks of things, the mayor and the Solar Bears may just see that wish come true.

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effort John, nicely done and spot on.