KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The SPHL regular season finally arrived Friday night and the Knoxville Ice Bears opened the season against the Evansville Thunderbolts at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum. After the offense looked good in the exhibition contests, the Ice Bears offense would start slow before turning up the heat on Evansville in the last two periods.
In the first period, the Ice Bears struggled to find their footing. Knoxville started the first few minutes by dominating the puck and playing the body all over the ice which led to some solid chances. As the game started to settle in, the Ice Bears would implement a neutral zone trap. The trap would fill up the zone and slow down the pace of play. Evansville would create chances by dumping and chasing the puck in the offensive zone. The Thunderbolts were able to score by capitalizing off of Knoxville turnovers.
Evansville’s Austin Plevy opened up the game’s scoring just over five minutes in by taking a Knoxville turnover and beating Hayden Stewart on a backhand shot at the front of the net. This goal was Plevy’s first professional goal. After this goal, Evansville would continue to try and create chances by dumping the puck in the zone. Just 3:19 after the Plevy goal, Taylor Makin would chase down a puck into the corner and beat Jason Price before finding Connor Sanvido with a pass to the front of the net. Sanvido would quickly put the feed past Stewart for Evansville’s second goal of the game.
The Ice Bears found their game to start the second period. Knoxville came out of the break and dominated puck possession. Once they got the puck in their offensive zone, Knoxville cycled the puck and kept Evansville chasing them for most of the period. Riley Christensen would score the first goal of his professional career after he deflected a blast from the blue line by Charlie Granath. Knoxville used the second period to reintroduce their penalty kill to the league. The Ice Bears killed both of their penalties in the second period. After giving up the Christensen deflection goal, Evansville and their goalie Max Strang would lock-back in defensively and shut down any Ice Bears opportunities for the rest of the period.
Knoxville had three power-play chances in the second period but failed to convert any chances and looked very disjointed. The discombobulated power-play left Ice Bears head coach Jeff Carr a little miffed:
“I thought our penalty kill was good. I thought our power play just was atrocious. We have worked on it and talked about shooting pucks in traffic. I think one power-play one time out of the 50 seconds did and that’s an issue. Once again, we have a good penalty kill and it’s a fresh year. I have full confidence our guys will come back ready to do the right things tomorrow.”
The third period was an extension of the second for the Ice Bears, as they kept finding ways to cycle the puck in the offensive zone in the period but struggled to convert chances.
Dylan Vander Esch, Brady Fleurent, and Scott Cuthrell would continue to help the Ice Bears dominate the offensive zone in the third period but still couldn’t crack the Evansville goaltender. Evansville’s defense would continue to stifle the Ice Bears offense at every turn. The Ice Bears were able to control the offensive zone but Evansville was able to limit the good scoring chances Knoxville could create. Knoxville’s final attempts at a comeback would be stumped by the officials after a boarding call on Alex Carlson with under two minutes to go in the game.
Knoxville will travel to Fayetteville to take on the Marksmen Saturday night. The Marksmen beat the Macon Mayhem in overtime Friday night in Macon to start their year.