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Knoxville scored four unanswered goals in the third period and the Ice Bears rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat the Evansville Thunderbolts 5-3 at the Ford Center Friday night in Indiana. The win gives Knoxville its first regular season title since 2009. Knoxville will face Roanoke in the opening round of the President’s Cup Playoffs.

The Ice Bears (41-10-4) have won nine of their last ten games and won for the ninth time this season when trailing in the third period. The Ice Bears become the first team in SPHL history to win five regular season titles and win more than 40 regular season games. The Thunderbolts (28-26-1) are locked into the No. 7 seed for the postseason and their first-round opponent has yet to be determined.

Dino Balsamo broke a 3-3 tie after two Evansville skaters collided into one another in the defensive zone. The puck came loose and Jason Price slipped the puck to Balsamo in the slot. His snapshot beat Chris Janzen at 14:41 of the third.

Knoxville tied the game with two early goals to erase the deficit. Brady Fleurent tried to redirect the puck from in front of the crease. His initial shot hit the right post and bounced back to him. He swatted the puck out of the air past Janzen to pull the Ice Bears to within one. Chris Jones fired a wrist shot inside the short-side post from the right circle to draw even at 7:40.

Derek Osik scored the lone goal of the period for Evansville with a wrist shot from the left circle. Connor Chatham carried the puck to the left half-wall and dropped it back to Osik along the wing. Osik skated to the dot and zipped the puck over Jimmy Poreda at 15:54.

Coy Prevost doubled Evansville’s lead with a shot from the bottom of the right circle that split Poreda’s pads at 3:33 of the second. Mike Ferraro and Austin Plevy cycled the puck around the boards behind the net and found Prevost on the right wing. His shot found the back of the net for his eighth goal of the year.

Andrew Bellant got one back for Knoxville just over two minutes later. Balsamo carried the puck out of the zone and accelerated a three-on-two. He sent the puck to Bellant on the left wing. Bellant drove towards the crease and forced a backhand by the short-side post for his 20th goal of the season.

Evansville extended its lead with a minute to go in the second when Plevy redirected a shot by Cooper Jones. A shot through traffic was kicked by Poreda and the rebound made its way to Jones at the right circle. Jones put the puck back towards the crease and Plevy tipped it between Poreda’s pads to make it 3-1.

Bellant knocked in an empty-netter with just under a minute left to solidify the result. Poreda finished with 36 saves for Knoxville. Janzen made 20 stops for the Thunderbolts.

The two teams will return to Knoxville to complete the home-and-home series, as well as the regular season. Saturday night’s game at the Civic Coliseum is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at

ABOUT The Knoxville Ice Bears: The Knoxville Ice Bears organization began in 2002 and was an inaugural charter member of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) in 2004. As four-time SPHL Champions, the Ice Bears are an experienced and established organization, offering the city and its’ visitors a balanced product of highlight-reel hockey, unique and exciting intermission activity and endless fan interaction, presenting the most affordable, family-friendly way to enjoy sports and entertainment. Season, Partial Season and Flex Tickets are now on sale.  For more information, visit or call (865) 525-7825.