Augusta RiverHawks fans arrived at James Brown Arena on Thursday night expecting a fight between the Southern Professional Hockey League’s top two teams.
All they got was a beat down.
The second-place Knoxville Ice Bears dominated the first-place RiverHawks through two periods and got better goaltending in a 5-3 win that saw them pull away early.
RiverHawks goalie Jon Olthuis gave up three first-period goals, including one within the first two minutes and two more late in the period in a 23-second span.
The defeat mirrored their previous meeting when Knoxville also built an early lead for a 5-3 victory.
“It’s disappointing that both times we’ve played them we haven’t gotten the saves we’ve needed early to get into the game,” Augusta head coach Brad Ralph said. “At the end of the day, we’re not playing smart hockey right now.”
Only an effective power play effort late kept Augusta in the game. Neil Graham scored his second goal of the night with a man advantage with 8 minutes left in the third period, but the RiverHawks failed to get closer.
Knoxville goalie Brian Hince picked up his league-leading 10th win with a 37-save effort.
“Every night he keeps getting better and better,” Knoxville coach Mike Craigen said. “And we just have so much confidence as a team with him in there.”
The Ice Bears (10-4-0) climbed within three points of Augusta
(11-2-1) in the standings.
Knoxville got only its third win in its seven road games, which made the victory a little sweeter for Craigen.
“It’s not so much of a statement as it is just progress for us,” he said. “We’ve been struggling to find our identity on the the road and to come in here and beat who we think, aside from us, is the best team in the league, it just showed progress.”
“Did we deserve to win that game? No,” Ralph said. “We’re not running our systems, we’re not where we’re supposed to be and we’re taking stupid penalties at points in the game when we have the momentum. It’s unfortunate that some guys aren’t getting it.”