Having played each other only twice this season - and the last time being in late-December - the Utah Grizzlies and Orlando Solar Bears really don't know a whole lot about each other as they prepare for the upcoming IHL Turner Cup Finals.
Despite that, the two conference champions do bear a striking resemblance (pardon the pun) in a few ways - and not just because of their mascots.In their first year in the IHL, the Solar Bears have become the 11th expansion franchise in the league's 50-year history to advance to the Finals.
Orlando had an impressive regular-season debut in the "I" by winning the Central Division with an outstanding record of 52-24-6 (110 points).
"We're going to the big dance and you don't get that many opportunities. We've got a chance now," Solar Bear coach Curt Fraser told the Orlando Sentinel.
That's similar to what the Grizzlies accomplished in their first season in Denver last year, when they went 57-18-6 and eventually won the IHL championship.
The two teams, who are a combined 10-0 in playoff series, have also followed similar paths in this year's Turner Cup playoffs.
The Solar Bears knocked off the Cincinnati Cyclones, who were the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, in a heated seven-game series that went to the limit. Orlando won the final two games against Cincinnati to recover from a 3-2 deficit, something they were also forced to do in their first two rounds. Faced with elimination, the Solar Bears had to rally to beat Fort Wayne and Detroit in the final game of each series.
The Grizzlies, meantime, struggled through the first round and needed to take the last two games to advance past Kansas City. They then eliminated the Peoria Rivermen, but it took the full seven games to do so.
And like what the Solar Bears did to Cincinnati, the Grizzlies did to the best team in the West - the Las Vegas Thunder. The Grizz did manage to get by the Thunder, who had the best record in the IHL, in six games, though.
But those kind of similarities aren't very helpful in devising a game plan.
"It's tough in the finals when you cross over to play the other conference," said Utah captain Gord Dineen, who was a key part to last season's championship in Denver. "We don't really know a lot about their team in general. They do have an awful lot of talent and older, experienced players."
It's been over five months since they've even skated on the same ice and when they did it wasn't very favorable as far as the Grizzlies were concerned. Orlando is the only team in the IHL that the defending champs haven't beaten.
The Solar Bears got their first-ever victory against the Grizz, a 6-5 win at the Delta Center clear back on October 14. Orlando won the rematch, 4-2, at the O-rena on Dec. 30.
"Those games have been so long ago, we have to scout each other out again," said Orlando defenseman Pat Neaton.
Turner Cup Finals
Orlando Solar Bears Vs. Utah Grizzlies
Game 1 Sunday, at Orlando, 5 p.m.
Game 2 June 4 at Orlando, 5 p.m.
Game 3 June 6 at Utah, 7 p.m.
Game 4 June 8 at Utah, 7 p.m.
Game 5* June 11 at Utah, 7 p.m.
Game 6* June 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m.
Game 7* June 15 at Orlando, 6 p.m.
* - if necessary