Throughout training camp and early this season, Vince Williams could survey the Orlando Solar Bears on the ice and remember the Titans.
"Character and leadership is something we wanted to install right away,'' said Williams, the Solar Bears' first-year coach. "It's a lot easier when you bring in guys with some familiarity. You've seen them at their best, and you've seen them at their worst. You know what they can do.''
Once the Trenton Titans' ECHL franchise folded in April, Williams not only was left without a job, but also a roster of players suddenly were facing uncertain futures, too. Mike Ullrich, Andrew Johnston, Eric Baier, Ian Slater and Kory Nagy were among them, and now they are with the Solar Bears (0-2), who will host the Gwinnett Gladiators in an ECHL game at 7 Saturday night at Amway Center.
- Solar Bears coach reunites with players from his former team
- Orlando Solar Bears coach Vince Williams, 4th from left, is shown with players, from left, Kory Nagy, Andrew Johnston, Eric Baier, Mike Ullrich and Ian Slater. All have ties to the Trenton Titans, an ECHL franchise that folded in April. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda, Orlando Sentinel)
- Saturday night's game: Orlando Solar Bears vs. Gwinnett Gladiators
- Pictures: Orlando Solar Bears
8701 Maitland Summit Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32810, USA
This hockey reunion was not part of some grand design. Not that anyone is complaining.
"We all kept in touch over the summer,'' said Nagy, who shares an apartment with Slater."We're still trying to get our bearings. We've made a few trips over to Universal [Studios Orlando] with the team, but we're just trying to check some stuff out now."
Ullrich originally was contacted by former Solar Bears coach Drake Berehowsky and was the first former Titan to sign. He was followed by Slater, a Satellite Beach native, a week later.
Baier signed next, then Nagy. Finally Johnston was assigned to the Solar Bears on Oct. 16.
"We're comfortable from last year,'' Johnston said. "It's easy to hang out with those guys. We have friendships with everyone on the team. We'll hang out by the pool, go golfing and [recently] we went bowling.
"Mike Ullrich won," Johnston reluctantly admitted as Ullrich sat nearby.
Baier, who joined a team that already included his brother Paul, is now a Solar Bears captain.
"We've never played together before,'' Baier said of his brother. "Once against each other in college, but never on the same team. It makes it easier for our parents to watch the games and to be able to visit us."
It also helps all of the former Titans to rejoin a team whose coach knows them well. The learning curve involved with switching franchises, including adjusting to a new system and expectations, was made smoother because of Williams' presence.
Williams, 37, spent seven seasons coaching in Trenton, including the past two as head coach.
"Hockey is a big world,'' Johnston said. "Everybody ends up knowing a guy or two on each team. This group is a little special with the chemistry guys have from last year.''
Said Williams, an Ontario native: "As a kid, I never had the opportunity to come down here, so we did Disney World with the family. I sat in the teacup rides, and It's a Small World ride. It's kind of embarrassing to say, but it was neat."
As the other former Titans can attest, so is playing together again in a new city.