|The Knoxville Ice Bears have re-signed three more players from last season's Southern Professional Hockey League championship roster.
Goalie Braely Torris, center Josh Cousineau, and left wing/enforcer Corey Fulton will return to the Ice Bears when players report for physicals Oct. 11.
SPHL teams are allowed to have their first practices Oct. 14, and the Ice Bears play their first exhibition Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m. against Fayetteville at Civic Coliseum.
Knoxville will have plenty of new players on the roster, but also a solid core of returnees.
"I'm excited for these new guys to get here," coach Mike Craigen said. "But we've also retained some big pieces from that championship team as well, guys who will be back and proud to see that banner go up in October and proud to defend it every night. We're looking forward to it, and it's my favorite time of the year, for sure, baseball playoffs and hockey starts."
Torris, a rookie last season out of Neumann College, pushed No. 1 goalie Bryan Hince for the starting job and eventually was called up to the Greeneville Road Warriors of the East Coast Hockey League, where he played eight games and was 3-3 with a 3.29 goals against average.
Torris returned for the SPHL playoffs and started the first two games of the first round as the Ice Bears split with Columbus.
Hince was in goal for the decisive Game 3 of the first-round series, won it, and stayed in goal the rest of the playoffs.
"Braely had an amazing rookie season," Craigen said. "He picked us up a lot when we were down. He played some great games. He's consistent. We expect him to come back and be part of a great goalie duo."
Hince's status with the Ice Bears is undecided, although he is protected by Knoxville and would count as the team's third veteran if he signed.
Cousineau, a rookie last season out of Adrian College, had 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 41 games. He had one goal and one assist in the playoffs.
Craigen looks for those numbers to increase with the loss of front-line forwards in Francis Drolet and Ben Power (both playing in Europe), Eric Satim (retired), and Ryan Salvis (chosen by Macon in the SPHL unprotected draft).
"Cousineau didn't get a lot of prime minutes out there last season," Craigen said. "He didn't get a lot of first power play time. He didn't get a lot of good opportunities offensively. He wasn't able to completely spread his wings, which is fine.
"He got to learn a lot from those players and ended up being a big part of our secondary scoring last year, but now he'll be able to step into the role of more of a primary scoring threat for us."
Fulton will be in his third season with the Ice Bears after being acquired from the Mississippi RiverKings during the 2013-14 season.
Although he had only four points (one goal, three assists) in 44 games, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Fulton racked up 126 penalty minutes, most of them for fighting.
Knoxville already signed another returning enforcer, SPHL veteran Dennis Sicard.
"Corey is a great teammate and great in terms of role acceptance," Craigen said. "I've never seen a guy accept his role as much as Corey does. He relishes the job and he does a great job of it. I think it's one of the hardest jobs in professional sports, what those guys do: go out there and drop their gloves and protect their teammates. I've got a lot of respect for a guy like Corey who's been doing it so long.".
By Dave Link