October 21, 2017 - Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) - Mississippi RiverKings
SOUTHAVEN, Miss. - The RiverKings started the 2017-18 campaign off on the right foot by taking down the Knoxville Ice Bears 4-3 on Friday night. In a game that had everything from finesse and speed to sloppy play and penalties, the RiverKings rode multi-point nights from Pijus Rulevicius and Devin Mantha to keep the Ice Bears at bay and spoil the coaching debut for Knoxville coach Jeff Carr.
The RiverKings took Planters Bank Ice at Landers Center by storm in the first period and held the upper hand in momentum and speed. Right as the RiverKings started to get their best chances on Knoxville goalie Zoltan Hetenyi, the air got sucked out of the building when a shot from Tyler Howe beat RiverKings goalie Tyler Green. The disappointment wouldn't last long as for the second time in two games counting preseason; the RiverKings were able to dodge a bullet when the goal was disallowed due to goaltender interference. Mississippi's forwards didn't back down, and their hard work paid off rather early when Devin Mantha broke open the scoring, at the 6:30 mark of the first period. In a play that started back at the blue line, Mississippi defenseman Ralfs Grinbergs expertly placed a shot off the end boards landing in the hands of Rulevicius. Pestered by two different Ice Bears inside the trapezoid behind the goal, Rulevicius was able to slide the puck to a wide-open Mantha who rifled a shot past Hetenyi, and the RiverKings took the 1-0 lead.
The RiverKings would only hold the lead for two minutes and 10 seconds as Knoxville came roaring back, tallying a goal of their own. Bringing the puck into the RiverKings offensive zone rather slow, Mississippi got caught a little too close to their goaltender allowing Tyler Howe to slip out and camp in the lower circle. It wouldn't take much for Ice Bears defender Myles McCauley to see Howe settled in and got him a pass which Howe made sure to bury behind Tyler Green and knot the game at one goal apiece.
For as organized and fluid the first period turned out to be, the second period was a stark contrast. Both teams guilty of multiple penalties, a slew of stoppages, and overall choppy play led to neither team getting the advantage through the first ten minutes of the second frame. Eventually, the RiverKings would find their stride, relying on two returning players to regain the lead. Giving chase to a puck behind the Knoxville net, Ryan Marcuz shook off three checks in succession remaining not only on his feet but also with possession of the puck. After escaping the collisions, Marcuz threw on the breaks and attempted a wraparound on Hetenyi. While the Hungarian born netminder was up to the task initially, a heads up play by Dillan Fox following up Marcuz's chance, helped the forward get a couple of hacks on the loose puck and finish what Marcuz started lifting the RiverKings to a 2-1 lead.
More lamp lighting would come from the home team in the second period at 12:51 mark. Artur Drindrozhik used every bit of his 5-foot-11, 174 pounds, frame to fight off sticks, shoves and checks on his way into the slot. While there, Drindrozhik was able to fire off a laser while falling to his knees and beating Hetenyi blocker side just above his outstretched right leg. The RiverKings would walk into the second intermission with a firm grasp on the game, leading 3-1.
In the third period, Knoxville clawed it's way back into the game thanks to defenseman Evan Neugold. Pinching on a play down low in the RiverKings defensive zone, Neugold was open to find a patch of ice near the circle where he sat and much like Knoxville's first goal, just waited for a pass to come his way. Once on his tape, Neugold froze netminder Tyler Green who couldn't move to his right fast enough, and the Neugold shot sailed past him into the back of the net. Knoxville was able to pull within one making the score 3-2 and was hungry for more. At the mark, they would succeed in tying the game for a second time on the night, and this time it was rookie Andrew Flaherty who put the biscuit in the basket. Working his way into the corner boards, Flaherty took on two RiverKings attempting to jam the puck loose. Flaherty would slip out of the tangle with the puck and take a quick shot. His shot, while aimless, ended up hitting a RiverKings defender and landing right back on the stick of Flaherty who lofted a wrist shot over the shoulder of Tyler Green, and scoring the Ice Bears third goal of the night, tying it at 3.
There was no point in the game where the RiverKings trailed on the scoreboard, and with 4:23 left to go in the third period Pijus Rulevicius would make sure that didn't happen. More strong board play, this time by Devin Mantha, led to a lead pass out to Derek Sutliffe. Sutliffe would take the check of two Ice Bears while below the Knoxville goal line and thread the needed to Pijus Rulevicius who strong-armed his way into getting a shot off and even gathering the rebound off Hetenyi's right pad to beat the netminder short side and secure the RiverKings lead once again, this time at 4-3. The game would be all but sealed when Ice Bear Lawrence Cornellier got called for interference with 1:07 remaining in the game putting Mississippi on the powerplay to finish out the final 67 ticks. Wasting no time, first-year SPHL coach Jeff Carr pulled his goaltender to even things at five skaters aside. For the RiverKings, the same powerful forecheck and offensive pressure that got them the upper hand in the first per, returned as they spent a majority of the power play in the Ice Bears defensive zone and ran out the time, holding on to beat Knoxville, 4-3.
The RiverKings are back in action Saturday night when they welcome the Birmingham Bulls to Landers Center for Superhero Night. Birmingham will be playing in their inaugural game after joining the league this past summer as an expansion team. Puck drop comes at 7 P.M. with the Landers Center doors opening at 6 P.M.