KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Ice Bears returned to the Civic Coliseum Saturday night to face off against the Evansville Thunderbolts. Knoxville went into Saturday night’s tilt on the heels of a 2-1 loss in Peoria on Tuesday and a 5-4 loss in overtime against Evansville on Friday night.
Knoxville once again got off to a hot start at home as Scott Cuthrell was able to score on Brian Billett just 1:01 into the first period. The Ice Bears would continue to be strong on the forecheck while cycling the puck. Evansville would counter by clogging up the neutral zone and slowing down the Ice Bears for the rest of the first period.
The Ice Bears controlled the pace of play early in the second and put Evansville on their heels. Jacob Benson kept Knoxville’s exciting play going when he was able to beat Billett just over two minutes into the second period. Knoxville would put on more steam and continue to dominate possession while keeping the puck mostly in their offensive zone. Deep in Knoxville’s defensive zone, Hayden Hulton would drop the gloves with Brian Bachnak to try and get Evansville going early in the second period. It would work, as Evansville was able to find their game. However, before Evansville found any success, Bryce Nielsen would score for Knoxville shorthanded to widen the lead to 3-0.
Evansville kept pushing after the Nielsen goal and created plenty of chances by getting to the front of the net and creating havoc in front of Knoxville goalie Brody Claeys. Zane Jones would be the first Thunderbolt to score, as he used his relentless style of play to find the back of the net halfway through the second period.
The Thunderbolts would keep pressing after the Jones goal, and Knoxville would end up taking multiple penalties that gave Evansville power play opportunities. League-leading scorer Austin Plevy would thrive on the man advantage, finally besting Claeys on the power play to bring Evansville within one goal.
The Thunderbolts would continue their offensive burst and Jones would remain a terror for Knoxville’s defense, ultimately leading up to the second goal of the game for Jones. The Jones goal seemed to be a wake-up call for Knoxville, as Benson would score his second goal of the game just 10 seconds after the Jones goal.
The third period would be an intense one for both teams as tempers started to boil over from playing two games in two nights. Knoxville would handle the chippy play better, however, as Knoxville would continue their speed-filled the offensive game. Ricky Kramer would take a pass from Claeys end-to-end and beat Billett for Knoxville’s fifth goal of the game. Evansville would try to find some of their second period magic, but in the end, it wouldn’t be their night. Alex Carlson would score on the empty net to put the game on ice. Knoxville would win 6-3, ending Evansville’s seven-game win streak.
The Ice Bears will have a five-day Christmas break before playing an important three games in three days against the Huntsville Havoc and Fayetteville Marksmen. A break of that size might worry most coaches, but when asked about it Head Coach Jeff Carr said:
“I think getting this reset button couldn’t have come at a better time. When you play with one guy out of position, it’s okay. But when you have defensemen playing forward and left-D playing on the right side, now you’re playing shorthanded. If say a guy has a fight, the stress it puts on your roster of playing the right way…you almost have to live for every shift versus build off every shift. That’s a recipe you don’t want to do for two, three or four weeks.
“We can get by with it. We came off our hot streak and then had a little dip. Ultimately, by mid-January, you probably are what you are and if we have health, keep winning and commit to the process, then that’s who we are. We aren’t just a hot team, and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
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