PELHAM, Ala. — After falling just two games short of winning the President’s Cup, the Birmingham Bulls are ready to clean up some unfinished business. The 2018-19 Bulls tied the SPHL record for the largest points increase between seasons (30) on the way to the runner-up finish against instate rival, Huntsville. The 2019-20 Bulls underwent some changes that will be noticeable among the fans in Birmingham, but across the league as well.
The only captain the SPHL Bulls have ever known is now gone, but he didn’t go very far. On July 25th, the team announced Craig Simchuk would transition to assistant coach under Jamey Hicks. “I am very excited to rejoin the Bulls organization in this new role. I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to transition to a career that allows me to continue working in the sport I love.” Simchuk had to say back in July.
The most noticeable change came in the front office. Art Clarkson, the man credited with bringing the Birmingham Bulls back to life not just once, but twice retired as managing partner in May. On October 7, 2019, less than five months after his retirement, Clarkson passed away peacefully at home.
Nuts and Bolts:
Record: 39-15-2, 80 points (2nd in SPHL)
Playoff Finish: Lost in the President’s Cup Final, 0-2, to Huntsville
GPG: 3.64 (2nd in SPHL)
GAA: 2.63 (2nd in SPHL)
PP: 43/225, 19.1% (5th in SPHL)
PK: 36/221, 83.7% (2nd in SPHL)
As mentioned in the introduction, the Bulls had a few changes from the 2018-19 season. Among those that will be interesting to watch this year is who will emerge as the starting goaltender. After two exhibition games, the Bulls kept Artt Brey and Carsen Chubak as goalies. Barring a signing this week, Brey and Chubak will be the goalies for Birmingham when the season starts on October 19th.
Now that Simchuk is behind the bench, the Bulls will be looking for a new on-ice captain. Of the three letter-wearing players in Birmingham last season, only Josh Harris remains. We expect Harris would stay as a letter earner from the previous season, but who will join him as a captain or alternate captain?
Will the Bulls continue the success? Last season was amazing to watch in Birmingham. The Bulls set SPHL records, made a playoff run, and finished with a winning record against seven of the other nine teams in the SPHL. Year three is full of mystery and intrigue, can the Bulls find another impact rookie like Garrett Schmitz? Advancing to the President’s Cup Final in only their second season was excellent and a surprise to some, but can they bring the President’s Cup to Birmingham to place in the trophy case?
“We’re very similar to how we started last season, and that has us very excited going into this season. Last season we started with four rookie defensemen and they played high-tempo. We stayed young on defense this season and they’ll get the puck into our forwards’ hands. We had good scoring and this year shouldn’t be any different.”
“When Mavric (Parks) stepped on the ice, we knew we had a chance to win at all times. During our inaugural year when we went on a big run in the second half of the season, Parks wasn’t with us. Charlie Millen carried the load for us. We like both of our guys we have this year and we’re going to give (Chubak and Brey) the opportunity to take control of (the goaltending position.)”
- J.M. Piotrowski – The rookie from Yale University has been a bright spot for the Bulls since training camp started. In the pair of exhibition games over the weekend, Piotrowski scored three times as the Bulls split their exhibition games.
- Cole Golka – Golka came to Birmingham towards the tail-end of the 2018-19 season and made an immediate impact. In 12 regular-season games, he scored seven goals and assisted on five others. During the Bulls run in the playoffs, he picked up a pair of goals with four more assists.
- Chubak/Brey – Goaltending will be a crucial factor this season. In training camp, it looks as though there will be plenty of scoring chances for Birmingham, but the question will be, can Birmingham stop the other team from scoring? Last season when the Bulls skated out with Mavric Parks in net, Birmingham went 30-7-1 when scoring two or more goals. With the potential offensive power the Bulls will have in 2019-20, can they find the man who can replace the man.
Gone but Not Forgotten:
- Mavric Parks – On September 4th, Parks announced his retirement from professional hockey. Parks leaves Birmingham as one of the most successful goaltenders in the SPHL and the history of professional hockey in the Magic City. Only John Garrett of the 1976-78 WHA Bulls had more career wins (48) and appearances (123). Parks’ legacy in Birmingham is cemented as one of the best to play in the Magic City.
- Andrew Darrigo was a leader both on and off the ice. When Darrigo was diagnosed with testicular cancer last season, it was a massive blow to the team and fans. When Darrigo returned to Birmingham, it was like a weight had been lifted off the squad. Now that he’s no longer playing for the Bulls, he will be missed by the coaches, front office staff and fans.
- Schmitz – A free-agent camp signee last season, Schmitz had a spectacular rookie season. His 33 points on the season were third in the SPHL for defensemen. Schmitz’s four game-winning goals were tops among all SPHL blueliners. Schmitz’s hard work gained himself an ECHL job with the Wichita Thunder.
Sin Bin Swami Sez:
Last season I correctly predicted the Bulls would make the playoffs. I did not, however, expect them to make it to the President’s Cup Finals. Last season the Bulls were the hunters and not the hunted. In 2019-20, the roles are now reversed. Birmingham is now a favorite among the coaches and media to contend for the Coffey Cup and, eventually, the Presidents Cup. I fully expect Birmingham to be playing hockey come the middle of April, but how far will they go into spring, I cannot say.