KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Last season, new Knoxville Ice Bears head coach Jeff Carr completely revamped the roster from the one set by the previous coach, Mike Craigen. This season, Carr looks to reboot the roster again with only nine holdouts from last season on the opening night roster in hopes that his sophomore season will produce more success than his first one.
Carr has also added leadership on the ice with veteran defensemen Phil Tesoriero and Joe Tolles. The duo will balance out the abundance of youth elsewhere on the ice for Knoxville heading into the season. While not a veteran, center Danny Cesarz, the lone player remaining on the Ice Bears roster from Craigen’s last season as coach two years ago, will also bring stability and continuity to a team undergoing its second big roster turnover in as many seasons.
Nuts and Bolts:
Last Season Record: 30-20-6, 66 points
League Finish: 5th, SPHL
Playoff Finish: Lost to Peoria in semifinals
Goals For Per Game: 3.66 (3rd, SPHL)
Goals Against Per Game: 3.25 (6th, SPHL)
Power Play: 17.4% (46/265; 5th, SPHL)
Penalty Kill: 86.1% (205/238; 1st, SPHL)
DAVENPORT’S NET: Goaltender Troy Davenport, one of the few returnees on the Knoxville opening night roster, upended Zoltan Hetenyi last season as the number one goaltender for the Ice Bears last season. Davenport started his first game for Knoxville on New Year’s Eve last season, going on to finish with a sparkling 16-3-3 record with a 2.66 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. Despite having the better record to end the regular season, Carr gave the nod to Hetenyi for the Ice Bears’ playoff run. Look for Davenport to use that as motivation this season to elevate his game to an even higher level than the already great numbers he had last season.
DEFENSE BRANCH(IK)ING OUT: A big late acquisition for the opening night roster was that of defenseman David Brancik. He led all Knoxville defenseman and was fourth in the league among blueliners last season with 36 points; he was the only defenseman with multiple shorthanded goals, scoring two last year. The talented Czech returns to anchor the Knoxville defense from a scoring standpoint, although the team also acquired two grizzled veterans in Phil Tesoriero and Joe Tolles.
FOR WHOM THE DEFENSE TOLLES: Tolles is an interesting pickup for the Ice Bears, not having skated in a professional game since 2016. He hasn’t been a couch potato, however, as he played senior hockey in the Allan Cup league for Hamilton the last two years. The veteran brings 123 games of SPHL experience, including 20 of those in Knoxville in 2014-15. Brancik’s return along with acquiring Tesoriero and Tolles provide an instant upgrade to the Knoxville defensive corps.
“The 2018-19 season will stand on three pillars: fierce aggression and combative physicality on the ice, sound operational decisions, and our incredible community. The city and our fans are the crown jewel of the league, and we will give back what we can to those who give so much to our team,” Carr said in an Ice Bears press release after receiving a three-year contract extension this summer.
Tesoriero/Tolles – It will be interesting to see how Carr plays the veteran duo, either together on the same defensive pairing or separated out to be glued to a younger defenseman. Regardless, Tesoriero, Tolles, and Brancik can be a dangerous trio of defensemen for the Ice Bears.
Cesarz – It’s Danny’s team now. The lone holdout from the end of the Craigen era in Knoxville, Cesarz will begin his fourth season pro this year, all of them spent with the Ice Bears. He was limited to only 35 games last season due to injury but still managed nearly a point a game with 34. A healthy Cesarz for the full 56-game slate will be a badly needed boost of offense for the Ice Bears.
Gehrett Sargis – Sargis, who made a name for himself the past three seasons in the Federal Hockey League, will begin the season on the Knoxville roster for the first time. He played in 13 games for Pensacola in 2015-16 and was in 48 contests for the Ice Bears last season, racking up 22 points during that combined stretch in the SP. Sargis could match Cesarz in terms of scoring for the team if his potential that was on display during his time with the Federal Hockey League is realized.
Gone but Not Forgotten:
Berkley Scott – Scott definitely went out on top, leaving the Ice Bears with huge shoes to fill on offense. His 70-point production last season, the best of his career and easily tops among all Ice Bears, earned him SPHL Most Valuable Player honors. Scott elected to hang up the skates this season, ending a seven-season pro career that saw him play a combined 250 regular season games for the Ice Bears dating back to his rookie 2011-12 season.
Hetenyi – They say you don’t mess with the Zoltan, but Hetenyi, we hardly knew thee. The career European player who had skated in just one season in North America prior to last year returned over the pond this season to play for DEAC in Hungary. He began the season as Knoxville’s #1 goaltender last year before being supplanted later in the season by Davenport. The European veteran was called on in the playoffs, having success in the first-round upset over Pensacola but dropping two games to Peoria in the semifinals.
Kevin Swider – Hey, why not? Last season at age 40, Swider ended a six-year hiatus and skated in the last six regular-season games for Knoxville. He acquitted himself well, finishing with six points off two goals and four assists. The perennial league MVP for the first several years of the SPHL, Swider never finished a full season for the Ice Bears with less than 92 points and three times eclipsed the 100-point plateau, numbers not seen in this league in quite some time. He also was part of three championship-winning teams in Knoxville. While Swider is not listed on the opening night roster, that’s not the say the door may not be open for a return to the ice down the road this season.
Sin Bin Swami Sez:
Chemistry will be a big question for the Ice Bears heading into the season. The quicker they get it, the more successful they will be this season. The ceiling for this team looks to be among the lower end of teams in the Challenge Round, while the floor may be on the outside looking in when it comes to playoff time. However, Davenport looks to own the Knoxville net this season without having to look over his shoulder, so if he can steal a few games and the defensive core plays to their potential, the Ice Bears could overachieve and be in the playoff conversation come April.
What do you think? Let us know how you think the Ice Bears will do!