BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – As the final seconds ticked down on Saturday evening, the notorious fan group at the Pelham Civic Complex 10H8, began chanting nine and oh, nine and oh. Boastfully letting the opposing team, the other fans, and anyone who was listening or watching what the Birmingham Bulls record was for the 2018-19 season so far.
What a difference a calendar year can make. On the date of this article, it has been 365 days since Birmingham snapped their 0-7-0 losing streak to start 2017-18. The shootout win over the Peoria Rivermen was the first in franchise history and the only win of November.
Fast-forward to this season, and Birmingham is arguably the hottest team in the SPHL. Not only had they won every game the puck has been dropped in, but they’re doing it despite what is considered vital statistics to winning. Opponents outshot the Bulls in eight of their first nine games. Going into Saturday nights game against Huntsville, Birmingham had the ninth worst power play in the league, and are the third most penalized team in the SPHL. The Bulls, however, keep finding ways to win.
On Thursday night Birmingham hosted the Quad City Storm for the only time in the regular season. It was the third straight game against the Storm after Birmingham swept a weekend set at Quad City over the weekend.
At the end of the first period, Quad City was doing something only they and the Pensacola Ice Flyers had done all season; they were leading the Bulls. The score was 1-0, and it was just the third time this season Birmingham had trailed going into the first intermission.
Going into the weekend, this was supposed to be the easier of the three games in three days as the Storm was a struggling expansion team, and only had one win to their credit on the young season.
Birmingham, as they have done so far this season, stepped up to the challenge. Josh Harris evened the game up 4:47 into the second period. Twenty-four seconds later, The Sin Bin’s first star of last week, Justin Larson, gave Birmingham the lead. Quad City would even the game up in the period as both teams skated to the locker room, the score tied 2-2.
In the third period, a precursor to the weekend occurred when Garrett Schmitz would give Birmingham the lead for good with a power play goal. Birmingham would go on to win 4-2.
The win against the Storm gave Birmingham a 7-0-0 start on the season, tying an SPHL record with the 2010-11 Huntsville Havoc and 2017 Pensacola Ice Flyers for consecutive wins to start a season. Bulls Coach Jamey Hicks spoke after the game about the difference in the two seasons, “Well that’s one thing, we really don’t talk about last year. We said the first day of training camp, different team, different era. If you think about it, there are only four guys who started the year with us last year… We haven’t forgotten, I think we’ve grown as an organization, not just on hockey.”
On Friday night the Bulls took to the road to face their in-state rival, the Huntsville Havoc. The Havoc dominated Birmingham in their barn last season, winning all five games and outscoring the Bulls 23-10 at the Von Braun Center.
Birmingham would lead two to one after the first period. The first time Birmingham had ever ended a period in Huntsville with the lead. As the second period came to an end, the score would be tied, three goals apiece, and the Birmingham fans in attendance were wondering, is this déjà vu all over again?
As Coach Hicks stated on Thursday night, this is a “New team and a new era,” and it wouldn’t be the same result as all the times before. The Bulls would outshoot Huntsville in the third period, scoring twice to the Havoc’s one goal, winning their first-ever game in Huntsville, 5-4. The highlight of the game was the performance of a new Bull, rookie goaltender, Ben Myers. Myers, who was in training camp with the Bulls, was one of Hicks’ final cuts. His debut performance on Friday night showed everyone why he was so hard to cut. Myers had 39 saves on 43 shots, his 6’5″ frame was all over the ice, making save after save and clearing pucks like a wily old veteran.
After what was a long, physical game, the Bulls faced a little post-game adversity. The team bus experienced mechanical issues before they could load up, and the team ended up spending an additional two hours at the Von Braun Center waiting on a new bus to carry them back to Birmingham.
For the first time this season, Birmingham had to play their third game in as many nights. After arriving back in Birmingham around three in the morning, the Bulls had to prepare to play the Huntsville Havoc again.
In the rematch, Birmingham dominated the Havoc from opening face-off to the final buzzer. The struggling Bulls power play would strike four times in seven opportunities, including three of four in the first period. Bulls goalie Mavric Parks continued to show why he’s Birmingham’s number one goalie. Parks would stop 31 of 33 shots, and the Havoc never got closer than a two-goal deficit.
Talking with Jamey Hicks after the win, the outstanding performance of the power play was mentioned, “Our power play awoke in the first period,” Hicks said, “we were moving the puck around, was really happy for (Josh) Harris’ line, to move the puck like they did.” Talking about how it seems Harris found his stride over the weekend, Hicks revealed, “He always had his stride, even the first couple of games when we were waiting for him to score the first goal. He was blocking shots, killing penalties, He’s still Josh Harris”.
Birmingham now prepares to play three games in four days over the Thanksgiving week. Birmingham will be home to Evansville on Wednesday night. The Macon Mayhem make their lone trip to Birmingham on Friday night. On Saturday, the Bulls will load up the bus and make the first of four visits to the Macon Centreplex.
Three Stars of the Weekend
First Star – The Birmingham Bulls Power Play Unit. These guys played the power play this weekend at a 38.5% clip, scoring five goals on 13 chances. Garrett Schmitz led the way with three power play goals.
Second Star – Josh Harris. On Thursday in my weekend preview, I said, Ffor the Bulls to remain undefeated over the weekend, more production from Harris will be expected.” Well, Harris delivered. Two goals, three assists, and a 3-0 weekend record for Birmingham.
Third Star – Mavric Parks. Parks continues to impress this season. A 2-0 record over the weekend, 2.00 goals against average and .925 save percentage.