KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — On Friday night, the Ice Bears defeated the Huntsville Havoc to start the exhibition season by a score of 5-4. The Ice Bears put a team on the ice that had a good mix of returning talent and players that are new to Knoxville. Stanislav Dzakhov, Jason Price, and Stefan Brucato were some of the most notable players to take the ice for the Ice Bears. However, new players such as Lionel Mauron and Dylan Vander Esch also looked to make a spot for themselves on the Ice Bears opening night roster.
The first period was extremely fast-paced, with both teams looking to impose their style of play. The Ice Bears struggled to find their way early in the period, which led to Huntsville scoring twice in the first period. However, Knoxville did find their footing late in the opening frame with Christian Whitcomb leading the way with his big hits and physical style. Whitcomb’s partner Price also had a solid first period using his smooth and savvy veteran style to control the game.
The Ice Bears gave up a quick goal to start the second period before following it with an immediate answer by Mauron. Mauron’s and his linemates Dzakhov and Bryce Nielsen controlled play in the second period. Dzakhov’s skilled skating and sharp passing lead to a plethora of scoring chances for the Ice Bears. Eventually, Mauron’s line would break down the Huntsville defense and score another goal, with Nielsen capitalizing. The Ice Bears would continue to push the pace and try to force Huntsville into making mistakes, which they would eventually do. Knoxville went on the power play late in the second period and would convert the chance into a goal. The Ice Bears had good puck movement, leading to a shot from the point by Price that was deflected by Brady Fleurent before beating the Huntsville goalie. Huntsville would put a late goal on the board to take a 4-3 lead into the third period.
Knoxville continued their excellent play in the third period. Riley Christensen scored early in the third, putting a great set up pass from Vander Esch in the back of the net. Dzakhov would continue to standout when he had the puck on his stick. Ultimately Dzakhov would score the game-winning goal with a Huntsville defenseman tackling him from behind. The last few minutes of the game were hotly contested and extremely chippy. Lonnie Clary, along with Whitcomb, got into a few altercations with Huntsville players late in the game and even an altercation after the final buzzer.
The Ice Bears split goaltending duties between Michael Santaguida and Cody Porter. Santaguida started the game and fell prey to the Ice Bears slow start giving up a few early goals. However, once the Ice Bears found their rhythm, it helped Santaguida finish his night on a high note with some very impressive saves. Porter played the second half of the game and played very well. He was able to shutdown Huntsville down the stretch and help the Ice Bears secure the win.
Ultimately the Ice Bears had a few players who played well. Dzakhov’s offensive skill was on display tonight. When the second-year forward was able to get into the zone, his abilities were unmatched on the ice. Newcomer Mauron had a great night; his smooth and calm style of play helped him excel. Whitcomb set the tone for the Ice Bears with his physicality and steady play with his defense partner. Price, paired up with Whitcomb, showed exactly why he was brought back to Knoxville. Price was extremely stable all night, that combined with his smooth playing style was a recipe for success.
The two teams complete the home-and-home exhibition series on Saturday night in Huntsville at the IcePlex.
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