PEORIA — Bobby Hull delivered a message to the Peoria Rivermen in their locker room before the game, and it proved timely three periods later.

"Love the game," Rivermen head coach Jean-Guy Trudel said. "Love it more when it's not going well for you. Play with passion and love your teammates, that's what he told our guys.

"I love that message. He's old-school, and he came in and told us about how his son (Brett Hull) was always smiling, happy to play the game — and then he said whenever Brett went into a slump and didn't smile, when he was frustrated and unhappy, that he sucked as a player.

"So funny. But what a great experience for our players to meet him and listen to him. Our team has that passionate kind of hockey soul."

What they didn't have was any goals at the end of the night, as the Rivermen fell 2-0 to the Knoxville Ice Bears on Saturday before 4,485 at Carver Arena.

The Bears celebrated wildly, as they should after handing the last team in professional hockey without a regulation home loss its first such loss of the season. The Rivermen now are 18-1-3 at Carver Arena.

Knoxville got goals from Stefan Brucato and Roberts Locans, while goaltender Cody Porter — who was in Peoria's training camp in the fall — tossed his first pro shutout.

The Rivermen, meanwhile, spent a second straight night with an array of high-percentage shots that went unfinished. Peoria out-shot Knoxville 38-18 and lost despite limiting Knoxville to just 12 shots through two periods, and six scoring chances in the game.

Hull, meanwhile, stayed long into the night to make sure every fan waiting in line got an autograph.

"We want to thank the Blackhawks for their continued support," Rivermen co-owner Bart Rogers said. "Bringing these legendary players to central Illinois and giving our fans a chance to meet them, talk to them, it is always a great night."

The Blackhawks have sent Hull to Peoria as a special guest twice now. Chicago has also sent Jamal Mayers twice, plus Tony Esposito and Denis Savard.

Fans lined up three rows across and two sections deep in the outer concourse of the arena, holding items from pictures to puck, sticks, skates, everything one could imagine.

"It's a good day when you get to play the game, that's what Bobby Hull told us," Rivermen veteran defenseman Ben Oskroba said. "He told us the game requires you to see it as the big picture.

"That applied for us tonight. Things didn't go the way we wanted them to."

Trudel walked into the locker room in the moments after the game, and addressed his team with a quick, simple statement:

"I love you guys. Keep your heads up, don't dwell on this."

And smile.

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RIVER READINGS: The Rivermen signed Mitchell McPherson to a new three-game amateur tryout contract on Saturday. ... The Rivermen had not been shut out on home ice in 126 consecutive regular-season games, dating to a 3-0 loss to Pensacola on Nov. 29 of the 2014-15 season. ... Peoria was blanked for the first time — home or away — in 122 games (last time was Feb. 12 of 2016-17 season at Pensacola, 4-0). ... Rivermen trailed by two goals at home only twice before all season, a pair of games they split with 6-5 overtime decisions to Fayetteville in which the Marksmen had 3-0 and 5-3 leads on Nov. 9-10. ... There was a weird sequence in the first period during a Rivermen power play when Knoxville's Gehrett Sargis left the penalty box 46 seconds early. A linesman whistled play dead and signaled two many men on the ice for Knoxville. The referee sent Sargis back to the penalty box to finish his time, but did not call any additional penalties.

Dave Eminian covers the Rivermen for the Journal Star, and writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com.