KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Knoxville Ice Bears returned to the Civic Coliseum Saturday to battle the Evansville Thunderbolts. Knoxville defeated the Thunderbolts 4-3 Friday night in a shootout. The Ice Bears would need to be disciplined to win the next game against Evansville.
The start of the first period was low energy as both teams seemed content to just try and feel each other out. Knoxville seemed to be tired after playing short-handed on Friday night. Evansville would take advantage as Braden Hellems blasted a shot from the top of the right circle past Joseph Murdaca. Evansville kept their push going as they forced a turnover on the forecheck and Jacob Smith was able to beat Murdaca from point-blank. Evansville would take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
Knoxville seemed to find their legs to start the second period as they began to get pucks in deep and cycle their offense. Lionel Mauron got Knoxville on the scoreboard when he tipped in a shot from Lucas Bombardier 2:17 into the second period. Bryce Nielsen would get Knoxville’s second goal of the period, this time on the power play. The Nielsen goal came just 55 seconds after the Mauron goal.
Evansville wouldn’t go away quietly, as Stanislav Dzakhov would get taken down during an obvious scoring opportunity and draw a penalty shot. However, Dzakhov would lift the puck over the net to keep the team’s tied at 2-2. The Thunderbolts kept pushing, with Zane Jones finding the back of the net on the power play to give Evansville a 3-2 lead. Evansville would carry that lead into the third period.
Knoxville stuck to their game plan to start the third. The Ice Bears drove hard into the offensive zone and created chaos by putting pucks on the net. Gehrett Sargis would be the beneficiary of Knoxville’s offense as he beat Braeden Ostepchuck to tie the game at 3-3. Both teams would settle in and look to not make mistakes as the clock dwindled down, ultimately leading to the second overtime game in as many nights.
Knoxville and Evansville brought their best into overtime and created great chances for both sides. Both teams would also need their goalies to be great in overtime and they were. Murdaca shut down any Evansville opportunities in overtime, while Ostepchuck was able to keep Knoxville off the board as the Ice Bears went on the power play with just under two minutes to go in overtime. Just as they did on Friday night, the combatants would head to a shootout.
Murdaca and Ostepchuck would take their spots between the pipes to begin the shootout, proceeding to put on a show. The goalies would duel for eight rounds, neither giving up a goal. Ostepchuck looked like he had ice water in his veins while Murdaca would pump up the home crowd between saves. Demico Hannoun stepped up to shoot in the ninth round for Evansville. Hannoun would try to beat Murdaca on his forehand, but Murdaca would shut him down. Nielsen would step up for Knoxville to take his second shot of the shootout and this time he didn’t miss, locking up a 4-3 win for Knoxville.
Knoxville was able to get all four points this weekend despite being taken to overtime twice. When asked about how Knoxville was able to stay mentally tough and battle despite being short-handed Friday night and in the second game of a back-to-back Saturday, Head Coach Jeff Carr said:
“It starts with Murdaca and then our captain Bombardier coming back in our lineup. When a team is playing injured or short-handed, you can talk about energy. but Bombardier playing through his jaw injury and Murdaca coming back, it gave us some new life on the back end and upfront.
“All the guys doing their job in between. I can’t say enough about Jason Price. The past two games, he’s been an absolute beast for us. He did all the things you want from a 21- or 22-year-old with his legs, let alone being a 34-year-old guy that was leading the way. It was a great team win, glad to get our four points and a sweep.”
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