KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – In the past two SPHL postseasons, Knoxville has pushed toward a berth in the championship round, coming up short each time. The Ice Bears will now look to take that next step.
Initial Schedule: (Home games in BOLD and All Times Local):
Dec. 26 – Knoxville at Huntsville, 8 p.m.
Jan. 3 – Knoxville at Macon, 4 p.m.
Jan. 8 – Macon at KNOXVILLE, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 9 – Knoxville at Birmingham, 8 p.m.
Jan. 15 – Knoxville at Huntsville, 8 p.m.
Jan. 16 – Huntsville at KNOXVILLE, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 22 – Pensacola at KNOXVILLE, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 23 – Pensacola at KNOXVILLE, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 28 – Macon at KNOXVILLE, 6:30 p,m.
Head Coach: Jeff Carr enters his third year as Knoxville’s head coach. In both seasons, including the postseason, he guided the Ice Bears to the second round of the President’s Cup playoffs each time. Overall, he is 85-59-16 as the Ice Bears head coach.
Last Season: 26-17-5, finished sixth in SPHL standings.
2019-20 Season Summary:
It’s a bit deceiving to simply say that Knoxville was sixth in the SPHL standings a year ago. When the season was shortened, the Ice Bears were only two points out of third place. Scoring was not a problem in Knoxville, with the top-scoring squad in the league being boasted by the Ice Bears. With 50 and 41 points, Scott Cuthrell and Bryce Nielsen were among the league’s top 11 scorers. The other end of the ice? A different story with just two teams giving up more goals than Knoxville a season ago.
Hot or Not?
Knoxville has gotten even better offensively in the offseason with the arrival of last year’s SPHL Rookie of the Year Austin Plevy coming to town with Evansville opting out for this season. That addition will be critical due to Nielsen having recently announced that he’ll be retiring. More grit has been added to the defensive end with Roanoke’s Travis Armstrong landing with the Ice Bears.
- Scott Cuthrell – Talent, experience, and familiarity with Carr’s system should give him, and the Ice Bears a leg up as the season starts.
- Joe Murdaca – Ranking third in the league last year with a .919 save percentage, he’ll also bring continuity in goal, having played 26 games last year in Knoxville.
- Stefan Brucato – There’s no price on experience, and Brucato brings that and scoring ability back this year, having played in 135 games in Knoxville over the last three seasons. His 36 points last year were also a career-best.
- Bryce Nielsen – Retired
- Austin Plevy – One of the league’s best scorers, regardless of experience. He’ll make a good scoring team even better.
- Travis Armstrong – Roanoke opting out is Knoxville’s gain with defenseman coming aboard. He has piled up 181 penalty minutes in Roanoke’s past two seasons, so he’s not afraid to drop the gloves.
- Jeremy Brodeur – Played briefly for Peoria last year before going overseas. His play this year could be critical to a good goalie tandem and shoring up the defense.
What to Watch For?
Jeff Carr’s teams have hardly been content to just be in the postseason, getting past the first round each time. To take the next step, defensive improvement will be key. The offense has proven to be no problem, and at times that can result in winning offensive shootouts. If the same can be said of defense by the time the postseason arrives, then another title will make its way to Knoxville.
Brad Harrison covers the Macon Mayhem for The Sin Bin. Follow and interact with Brad on Twitter @SinBinMayhem!