LAFAYETTE — As the Louisiana IceGators hit the next stage of an 11-game road stretch, they will encounter an opponent shrouded in mystery.
The Gators will go against the Knoxville Ice Bears for games Friday and Saturday at 6:35 p.m. before they travel to Columbus, Georgia, for a 3 p.m. Sunday game against the Cottonmouths.
The Knoxville games will mark the first time the Gators have faced the Ice Bears this season. In addition, the Ice Bears will likely have some roster turnover heading into the series after playing their last game short-handed.
“They are depleted right now,” Gators coach Drew Omicioli said. “It’s difficult to see their system. They will probably be calling up other guys from the Federal League.”
Center Trever Hertz has been a main offensive creator for the Ice Bears (14-18-3). He leads the team with 28 points (20 assists and eight goals). In Knoxville’s last game against Mississippi on Saturday, the Ice Bears’ defense and goaltending gave up six goals in a 6-2 loss. Backup Brian Billett took the loss in that game. In 25 games, starter Bryan Hince has an 11-10-1 mark and a 2.46 goals allowed average.
Aside from those individual players, the Ice Bears’ venue, the Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Civic Center, presents its own special atmosphere.
“It’s a difficult place to play in with it being the smallest arena in the league,” Omicioli said. “It fits our game well. Our guys are good in tight areas. It will be a new experience for some of our guys. Compared to the Cajundome, everything seems small, but Knoxville is a smaller venue altogether.”
The Gators (13-15-3) are coming off a split of a pair of 6-1 decisions against the Huntsville Havoc. Jake Hauswirth had a pair of goals in the victory before Huntsville bounced back with five straight goals in the next game.
“We had opportunities Saturday, but we didn’t execute them,” Omicioli said. “They were flying around in front of a huge crowd in Huntsville. Guys for us were in the right place, and it was not a lack of effort — guys just didn’t get it to the back of the net.”
Geordie Wudrick is the Gators leader in goals with 13. He is followed closely by John Daniels (12), Jeremy Boyer (11) and Hauswirth (10).
Winger Blake Hietala will rejoin the IceGators in Knoxville after a month-long stint with Elmira of the ECHL.
“On nights when we sit back and don’t execute, we struggle,” Omicioli said. “One of our fortes is quickness. When we are getting forward and maintaining control of the puck, I thought we did a great job of that Friday (in the 6-1 win). These are three huge games. Both of these teams are within a couple of points of us.”