KNOXVILLE, TN – Hopefully, the Knoxville Ice Bears put their headwear on sale after tonight’s game. In a battle of unbeaten teams, the Ice Bears got hat tricks from Mark Pustin and Kyle McNeil as Knoxville got off to a fast start against the Huntsville Havoc and never looked back in a 7-3 victory at the Knoxville Civic Center. The Ice Bears remain unblemished after three games, while the Havoc drop to 2-1-0.

The longtime rivals traded goals early in the game. Kyle McNeil started off the scoring with Corey Hale’s centering pass from the right side finding its mark. McNeil taps the puck past starting goaltender Adam Courchaine. Less than a minute later, the Havoc potted the equalizer on Sy Nutkevitch’s tough-angle shot from the bottom of the right face-off circle. The Huntsville goal was the last gasp of relevance in the opening period, as the Havoc could not break the Ice Bears aggressive forecheck. Knoxville would capitalize twice more in the opening period. At the 11:38 mark, Pustin positioned himself in the high slot and snapped a shot past a partially screened Courchaine to retake the lead for Knoxville. Less than a minute later Pustin would strike again on a bounce pass off the end board from McNeil. Pustin then buried the puck point-blank to put the Bears up, 3-1.

Huntsville coach Glenn Detulleo would switch netminders to start the second period. Tyler Steel, a rookie from Brown University, would see his first game action of the young season in relief of Courchaine. The middle frame was a mostly controlled by the blueliners, with neither team getting much going in their respective offensive zones. Both teams would swap power play goals in the middle frame. First, the Havoc would cut their deficit to one goal on Dylan Nowakowski’s water bottle rattler from the left side. With 11 seconds remaining in the period, hats flew from the stands on Pustin’s third goal of the night as the Bears converted on Mike Piluso’s tripping penalty.

One one shift early in the third period, the Ice Bears line of McNeil, Garrett Vermeersch, and Danny Cesarz would blow the game wide open. At the 2:10 mark, Cesarz slung a seeing-eye pass through two Havoc defensemen and hit McNeil’s stick just to the left of Steel for an easy tip-in. Eleven seconds later, the linemates struck again. Cesarz, on a left-side rush, hit the trailing McNeil on a drop pass and buried the forehand for his own hat trick. With Corey Hale racking up reward points with his fifth visit to the penalty box, Doug Reid went coast-to-coast after forcing a blue line turnover on the penalty kill  and snapped off a wrister from the top of the left circle to close out the scoring for Knoxville. Jordan Wood would add a garbage time goal for the Havoc with eight seconds remaining to bring the rout to a close.

The Ice Bears’ win is their third successful defense of the SPHL Title Belt. Tomorrow night, Knoxville will attempt their fourth defense against the Havoc, with the home-and-home series moves to Huntsville.

Scoring Summary

Period 1
KnoxvilleKyle McNeil (Corey Hale) 3:12
HuntsvilleSy Nutkevitch (Nolan Kaiser) 4:06
KnoxvilleMark Pustin (Danny Cesarz) 11:38
KnoxvilleMark Pustin (Kyle McNeil, Jason Price) 13:32
Period 2
HuntsvilleDylan Nowakowski (power play) (Jordan Wood, Stuart Stefan) 9:24
KnoxvilleMark Pustin (power play) (Corey Hale, Brad Pawlowski) 19:49
Period 3
KnoxvilleKyle McNeil (Danny Cesarz, Garrett Vermeersch) 2:10
KnoxvilleKyle McNeil (Danny Cesarz, Garrett Vermeersch) 2:21
KnoxvilleDoug Reid (short handed) (unassisted) 12:37
HuntsvilleJordan Wood (Dylan Nowakowski) 19:52

The Sin Bin’s Three Stars

★ – Mark Pustin – KNX (Three shots, three goals)
★★ – Kyle McNeil – KNX (Three goals, Assist, +5)
★★★ – Danny Cesarz – KNX (Three assists, +4)

Tonight’s SPHL Scores

  • Pensacola 4, Columbus 1
  • Fayetteville 4, Mississippi 1
  • Peoria 4, Macon 3
  • Roanoke 3, Evansville 2

Tomorrow’s SPHL Games

  • Title Belt Game: Knoxville at Huntsville – 7:00 CT
  • Mississippi at Fayetteville – 7:30 ET
  • Peoria at Macon – 7:35 ET
  • Columbus at Pensacola – 7:05 CT
  • Roanoke at Evansville – 7:15 CT

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