Knoxville Ice Bears defenseman Mark Van Vliet doubled his season total in goals, including the eventual game-winner, in a close loss for the Augusta RiverHawks.
Van Vliet scored early in the third period for the deciding blow in a 3-2 Knoxville win over Augusta on Saturday at James Brown Arena.
Augusta (5-14-3) came out flat defensively, allowing Knoxville (11-9) to have open looks at the goal and score twice within the first 11 minutes of the game. Van Vliet found the net 5 minutes into the first period on a slap shot, while Jon Higgins did the same 6 minutes later.
Van Vliet’s goal marked the third consecutive game that Augusta’s opponent had scored first.
“That’s how the first half has been going,” captain Matt Auffrey said. “We’ve had to climb uphill. The defensive game has to pick up.”
The RiverHawks scored their 11th power-play goal of the season with 4 minutes left in the first period, as Ian Watters hit a slap shot past former Augusta goalie Peter Skoggard to bring them back to within one.
Auffrey’s third goal of the year and first since Dec. 13 tied the game at 2 in the second period, the only goal of the period.
Similar to Van Vliet’s first goal, he found space and scored on an open shot 7 minutes into the third period to break the tie. It would prove to be the game-winning goal, snapping the Ice Bears’ three-game losing streak. It was Van Vliet’s fourth goal on the season.
“It’s where we’re set until one guy is not doing his assignment,” Auffrey said. “We have to minimize their scoring chances.”
Augusta is 11 for 83 in power plays this season and was coming off a season-worst 0 for 8 the day before against Huntsville before going 1 for 3 against Knoxville. The RiverHawks’ previous power-play goal came a week ago against the Ice Bears.
“We’re trying to find the right guys,” Auffrey said. “We’re patching. Right now our skill is spread out. We try to execute and find that one solid power play, and it’s tough right now.”
Augusta goalie BJ O’Brien went 21 for 24, while Skoggard went 23 for 25.
The RiverHawks remained at the bottom of the SPHL standings with the loss, their third in a row.