The Birmingham Bulls have only gotten to play 3 games on the ice since January 7, 2021. Mainly dealing with other teams not having enough players to play due to SPHL COVID protocols. Two of the three games came against none other than the Pensacola Ice Flyers and the third game being played yesterday against the Bulls rivals the Huntsville Havoc. The Bulls have begun to figure out the Ice Flyers beating them both time once on our home ice and the other down there. Huntsville with just 14 guys on their bench figured out a way to get the W on MLK day in front of the Birmingham faithful. Yesterdays loss is being swallowed a little tougher than others because of the rivalry that has blossomed over the last two seasons with Huntsville, but knowing the Bulls team has many of COVID fill ins as I like to call them gives Bulls fans some hope going forward.
What was orginally the first of three games in a row for Birmingham turned out to be the only game the Bulls would play that weekend. The fans were excited as Josh Harris, former captain from last years team, was signed that morning to return to the ice. Josh is not active on the roster this season beacuse SPHL rules will not allow any players to have a job outside of playing hockey this season with COVID. Coach Simchuk pursuaded the league to make an exception probably because Harris is at the rink every day running the Pelham Youth Hockey League. Pensacola started off the game getting two quick goals from Garret Milan (2) and Darren McCormick (3). In what was beginning to look like a route as was seen in the second game of the season against the Ice Flyers Birmingham’s Mike Davis(2), assist Harris (1), got one past the now ECHL bound Luke Kupsky with just :39 seconds remaining in the first. The game started becoming more and more physical as the teams seeing more of each other has started to get a little bad blood going between some of the guys. The hits were big and happening at a very high frequency. Team captain Logan Nelson was taking names as his massive hit sparked a goal and the Bulls never looked back. Taylor Pryce, who is becoming one of the Bulls top point getter, scored two goals in the second period to take Bulls ahead 2-1 with assists to Nelson (4) and Soucie (3). Bulls however failed on two power play attempts keeping them scoreless on that special teams so far, but also killed two penalties off without allowing a goal from Pensacola. That is a huge improvment based off the three shorthanded goals in the previous blowout. FINALLY a Power Play goal for the Birmingham Bulls came off the stick of Alex Gilmour (1). Gilmour got his first professional goal of his career and then added one more in the third period to make the score 5-2. Josh Harris who returned for the Bulls ended with three assists on the night. Cole stallard got his first point of the year on an assist in the final goal. The Bulls looked to be clicking in every aspect of the game on this night. The cap of the whole night has to be Jarod Hilderman for the Bulls in a fight with Pensacola’s Patrick Megannety with just over two minutes to go in the game. Hilderman delivers one punch and down Megannety goes, but as he gets up stumbles to the bench and the crowd was loving it. Austin Lotz got the W for Birmingham in net stopping 29/31 shots. The wonderful Jake Kupsky got pulled for Chase Perry in the third period after the bulls had scored their fifth unanswered goal. Kupsy went 22/27 while Perry stopped the lone shot he faced. This win for the Bulls was huge in the sense that they got over the hump of blowing lead in game one and getting blown out in game two. The guys needed the confidence that they could beat them and they did.
COVID protocol is a term everyone in the sports world is too familiar with now. The SPHL is very tight when it comes to disclosing who is at fault for the postponment of the game but both of the Bulls game the following two nights were postponed due to the leagues rules dealing with COVID. Then comes the signing of players from teams all over to try and fill rosters in spots of the guys who are stuck quarantining in their respective apartments or houses. Then comes the interesting part for the Bulls who were scheduled to only play Saturday, January 16 in Macon, end up being Macon Mayhem replacement in Pensacola on Friday, January 15th. Not only was this a blindsided addition to the schedule they were not only without head coach Craig Simchuk but had to play 4 on 4 hockey the whole game. For any of you reading this that are not that familiar with hockey, usually it is played 5 on 5. This being the season that it is Birmingham made the familiar journey down south to play in “The Hanger”. Pensacola where Bulls have only one once in the last five attempts through last years shortened season started off fast. Mike Davis (3) scored 1:02 into the first period. Unfortunantly an Austin Daae penelty just a minute later led to a Pensacola Power Play goal evening up the score at one. Tyler Penner (1) scoring his first goal of the season answered right back with a goal just 0:54 later putting the Bulls up 2-1. A quck moving game if one was watching at home the second period saw each team trade goals back and forth. Pensacola’s Jake Wahlin (1) scored to tie the game back up 2-2. Both teams had one Power Play attempt each in the second period and failed to convert, but to nobody’s surprise of the Bulls lack of execution. Cole Stallard who has been playing very well for the Bulls finally got his first goal of the season putting the good guys back up on top 3-2. The third period was full of action and it started right off the bat 2:49 in with a goal from Michael Chen (1) which tied the game up 3-3. The game would go into OT where the Bulls score what appeared to the whole team as a game winning goal 0:47 into the extra period. The Bulls were already headed into the locker room when officials ruled it a no goal. Pensacola and Birmingham would go back and forth but eventually led to a shootout. It took Birmingham 7 tries until Kasey Kulczycki gets one past Pensacola net minder Taran Kozun. Hayden Lavigne stops Alec Hagaman and the W and 2 points awarded to the Bulls. Lavigne gets the W for Bulls stopping 42/45 shots while Kozun getting the L stopped just 23/26.
Finally the Birmingham Bulls get a fresh opponet, but it just so happens to be their arch rival from just a little ways up I-65 the Huntsville Havoc. The Havoc are the ones responsible for finishing off the Bulls in the Championship series just a short two seasons ago. The game being played Monday gave both teams just one days rest between what both teams would call a dog fight physically. Huntsville being struck hard by COVID quarantine policies by SPHL had just 14 players on the bench. One would think Birmingham would come out and just try and skate them up and down the ice to tire their already worn out legs. The first period you could tell between the teams still being worn down and it also being a 1 PM puck drop was sluggish and slow. Neither team really had any thing going for them in the first other than two lazy tripping penalties. Huntsville opened up the game in the second period. Nolan Kaiser (1) and Sy Nutkevitch (3) scored the first two goals early in the second period to put Havoc up 2-0. The Bulls who once again struggling on the Power Play were still outshooting the Havoc so one was bound to finally get past Havoc goalie Jason Pawloski. It was fitting that the first goal for CJ Hayes came against the Havoc as they had released him just a couple weeks prior. Tyler Penner who assisted on the goal by CJ wanted to get one for himself and was able to beat the goaltender for the second Bulls goal and to tie the game 2-2. Huntsville who was on the power play, a weak tripping call on Tyler Penner of the Bulls, got a Power Play goal by John Schiavo (3) with just 0:34 seconds remaining in the second period. The third period had Birmingham come out skating with more aggression and urgency tied the game up with a goal by another former Havoc player Jared Legien (2). Huntsville would regain the lead and keep it with a goal by Rob Darrar (2). Birmingham just did not get anything going after that and drops the first meeting. The loss not only stings for the Bulls but gives Huntsville first place in the SPHL. Birmingham just never could get anything going and with a team only having 14 skaters one would think they could out skate them for 3 periods but that just was not the case. Birmingham ended the game down a man and only pulling the goalie with 0:34 remaining. One thing that had remained the same the whole game for Birmingham was their inability to maintain possession of the puck in the Havoc zone. Jason Pawloski received the W for Huntsville stopping 29/32 shots while Hayden Lavigne received his first professional L stopping only 17/21 shots. The silver lining Bulls fans can take away from the game yesterday is due to COVID this is not the roster that will hopefully suit up against the Havoc this upcoming Saturday night.