SOUTHAVEN, MS (release) -- The Knoxville Ice Bears traveled across the state of Tennessee to take on the Mississippi RiverKings for the opportunity to extend their season. A productive power-play and solid defense by the Ice Bears lifted them to a 4-2 victory forcing a third and deciding game in Knoxville on Sunday at 5 pm.
The Ice Bears struck early as they took advantage of their first power play opportunity. At 7:46 of the first period, Emery Olauson ripped a shot past David Wilson on tic-tac-toe passing from Kevin Swider and Ricky Helmbrecht. As the period was winding down, Mississippi’s Matt Wilson took a cross-checking penalty to put the Ice Bears on the power play again. Just 11 seconds in to the man advantage, David Segal jammed home a loose puck to put the Ice Bears up 2-0 with just 16 seconds remaining in the opening frame.
The second period opened with a bang, Mississippi played as if they were the team in a must win situation. After outshooting Knoxville 20-15 in the first period, the RiverKings continued to dominate the shot count again by peppering Ice Bears’ netminder Kyle Rank with 11 more. The sustained pressure, in the Ice Bears zone, ultimately led to the RiverKings first goal of the game. The RiverKings came into the Knoxville zone on a 2-on-2 and Justin McDonald threw a well-placed backhander right inside the far post of Rank to cut the Ice Bears lead in half.
Knoxville entered the third period with a do or die mentality. Regardless of skill set, players were hitting at every opportunity, blocking shots and eliminating any time and space for the RiverKings to claw back into the game and finish off Knoxville.
At 1:46 of the third, Knoxville’s faceoff king, Mike Towns won a clean draw back to the point where Tyler Fletcher wristed a seemingly harmless shot at the net and through the legs of Wilson. The surprising goal put the Knoxville up by two for the second time in the game at 3 - 1.
If it wasn’t for the stellar play in the third by Mississippi’s netminder Wilson, who robbed Segal on two sure goals, the game would have been out of reach for the home team.
In typical playoff fashion, penalties were hard to come by as both teams traded a little extra after each encounter. As the closing minutes ticked off, Knoxville’s Dan Bremner was whistled for interference giving the RiverKings the only power-play of the period at 19:08. With Wilson pulled for an extra attacker, Mississippi’s Matt Whitehead shot a puck that bounced off an Ice Bears defenseman’s leg and past an unsuspecting Rank to draw closer at 3-2.
With only 18 seconds remaining, the RiverKings threw everything they had at Rank but it was Swider who deflected the puck around a defender where he buried an empty net goal from 110 feet out with just .4 second left on the clock.
The Knoxville Ice Bears will host the Mississippi RiverKings on Sunday, April 1st at 5 pm at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum. The game will decide which team will advance to the semi-finals. If Knoxville wins, they will play Columbus and should Mississippi win they will battle the Augusta RiverHawks.