With four SPHL President’s Cups and five regular season titles, the Knoxville Ice Bears are recognized as one of the storied franchises in the history of the Southern Professional Hockey League. To honor the men & women who have contributed to this success, the team is happy to announce the formation of the Pillar of Champions. “With so many great players wearing the Ice Bears crest we felt this is the ideal way to honor our team’s history,” said Ice Bears President & GM Mike Murray. Each year, the Ice Bears will induct a former player, coach, or contributor who was integral in the franchise’s success. The standard by which inductees for the Pillar of Champions are selected is based on the following criteria:


· Retired for at least three seasons.

· Must have played for the Ice Bears for a minimum of two seasons or equivalent.

· Should possess noteworthy career highlights, records, and achievements.

Coaches and Contributors

· Made significant contributions to the team and community.

Mark Van Vliet | Defenseman | 2008-14 | Inducted March 18, 2023

One of the best defenseman in SPHL history, Mark Van Vliet appeared in more than 300 games as an Ice Bear from 2008-14. Switching from forward to defense, Van Vliet excelled on the blue line for Knoxville. He was a part of Knoxville’s President’s Cup title in 2009 and became the first two-time winner of the SPHL Defenseman of the Year Award, receiving the honor in back-to-back seasons in 2010 and 2011. He became a staple of excellence and leadership in the SPHL, serving as Knoxville’s captain during the 2011-12 campaign and being named to the All-SPHL 1st Team four consecutive years from 2010-13. He finished his career as one of the highest-scoring defenseman in league history, totaling 238 career points and a +77 rating.

Don LaBelle | Defenseman | 1961-68 | Inducted November 22, 2023

Don Labelle played 441 games for the Knoxville Knights during the team’s entire existence from 1961-68. During that time he scored 40 goals and totaled 221 points for the Knights. He was named to the All-EHL Second Team in 1967. Labelle also served as a player/coach for five of the seven seasons he was with the club. Under Labelle’s leadership, the Knights reached the playoffs in six consecutive seasons. One of Labelle’s most notable moments came in an exhibition game in 1963 against the USSR National Team, helping the Knights overcome an early two-goal deficit to draw with the USSR in a 4-4 tie. He concluded his EHL career with 707 career games played and 307 points.

Mike Murray | Center | 1989-2003 | Inducted December 26, 2023

Born in Kingston, Ontario, Mike Murray enjoyed a successful career in the OHL, which led to him being selected by the New York Islanders in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. In his final junior season, he he scored 27 goals and had 65 points to help the Guelph Platers win their first OHL title. Murray continued to excel in the postseason as the Platers went on to win the CHL Memorial Cup that same year. As a pro, Murray made his NHL debut with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1988 and later won the AHL’s Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears that same season. Murray later spent five seasons with the Knoxville Cherokees in the ECHL where he played 262 games and totaled 287 points in East Tennessee. He later spent time playing for the Knoxville Speed and even appeared in four games as an Ice Bear during the team’s inaugural season. In all, his career spanned 13 seasons in which he played 597 professional games, scored 293 goals and had 630 career points.

Wes McCauley | Defenseman | 1993-94 | Inducted February 29, 2024

A native of Georgetown, Ontario, Wes McCauley played 56 games for the Knoxville Cherokees following his collegiate career at Michigan State University. As a rookie, McCauley had 30 points and helped the Cherokees to a playoff birth. After wrapping up his playing career, he became an official and made his NHL debut in 2003 before being hired as a full-time NHL referee in 2005. As an official, McCauley has refereed more than one thousand NHL games and has been a frequent selection to officiate the Stanley Cup Finals.

Tim Vitek | Left Wing | 2006-10 | Inducted March 23, 2024

Tim Vitek spent parts of four seasons with the Ice Bears from 2006-2010. He appeared in 154 games as an Ice Bear putting up 75 goals and 211 points in Knoxville. He was an integral part of Knoxville’s back-to-back President Cup titles in 2008 and 2009. His second period goal in game three of the 2008 President’s Cup Finals broke a 2-2 tie and he later added a third period tally to put the game on ice to help Knoxville seal the championship. In 2009, Vitek provided more heroics in the championship series with a late goal in the third period of game six that forced overtime. The Ice Bears would go on to force a game seven before winning the series and the franchise’s second consecutive title.

Curtis Menzul | Defenseman | 2004-07 | Inducted March 23, 2024

Curtis Menzul joined Knoxville for the team’s first season in the SPHL in 2004 and played 156 games over the next three years for the organization. During his first season, Menzul racked up 35 points and 115 penalty minutes while earning First Team All-SPHL honors and was named Defenseman of the Year. During the 2006 SPHL playoffs, Menzul had ten points in eight games to help the Ice Bears to their first President’s Cup. He finished in the top three in scoring among defenseman twice in his career and finished with 105 points as an Ice Bear.