BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – One of the oldest rivalries in American history is North versus South. It doesn’t matter what it is, football, baseball, racing, or hockey, if a Northern team and Southern team are squaring off, people take sides. For one Southern team in the SPHL this season, they can claim bragging rights over the Northernmost teams in the SPHL.
When the final horn sounded on Saturday night in Evansville, Indiana, the Birmingham Bulls had defeated the Evansville Thunderbolts 3-0. The win was the 36th of the season for Birmingham. It was the league-leading 28th ‘W’ for Mavric Parks and fifth shutout of the season. The most shocking could be the season result. Combined with the results against Peoria and Quad City, the Bulls finished the regular season undefeated against the SPHL teams north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Birmingham went 15-0 this season combined against Evansville, Peoria, and Quad Cities. A southern team’s domination of the north might be enough to make the ghost of Paul “Bear” Bryant proud.
How the Bulls accomplished the feat was more impressive. Against the northern teams, Birmingham players had three hat tricks, five overtime/shootout wins, and held their opponent to one goal or less seven times — a defensive effort that would make Alabama football coach Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban proud.
On Friday night, Birmingham defeated Evansville by a score of 5-2. All five goals were scored by five different players. Craig Simchuk gave the Bulls the lead in the first in which they would never relinquish. Making his professional debut, Mike Crocock scored the eventual game-winner midway into the second period. Austin Daae, Mike Davis and Josh Harris would also contribute goals on the evening. Sebastian Andersson got the start for Birmingham and was impressive again in net. Andersson stopped 30 of 32 Thunderbolt shots to pick up the win.
Talking with Coach Jamey Hicks on Saturday night, he was proud of the teams weekend performance:
“We did what we wanted to accomplish this weekend. Come and get a couple of wins and tighten up a couple of things.”
Talking about Parks picking up his fifth shutout of the season, Hicks commented: “He’s had a tremendous year, but I know he’ll trade those shutouts to make a run here (in the playoffs).”
Speaking of the playoffs, barring a collapse from the Peoria Rivermen, the Bulls will have to settle for finishing second in the regular season. That means Birmingham will have the second choice in the SPHL Playoff Challenge Round selection on April 7th. For those who are unfamiliar with the SPHL playoff format, the Challenge round was introduced last season. The teams that finish 1-3 get to pick their first-round opponent from the bottom four ranked teams that qualify for the playoffs. The team that finishes fourth, gets the leftover team that the other three didn’t want.
As Birmingham prepares for the four remaining home games this season, there was a slew of roster moves made on Sunday and Monday afternoons. Sunday afternoon saw Cole Golka sign a contract with the Bulls. In what was an extended amateur tryout, Golka put up numbers that earned him a deal, scoring four goals and collecting three assist in eight games played. Josh LaFrance was placed on waivers on Sunday.
Monday saw the signing of Mike Crocock. To make room for him, veteran Joe Tolles was placed on waivers. Crocock who signed an amateur tryout last week coming from Sacred Heart University was a +3 for the weekend with a pair of goals.
The best news of the transactions is the activation of Andrew Darrigo from the injured reserve list. Darrigo returned to the Bulls two weeks ago and has been serving as a bench coach. His return to the locker room makes everyone just a little happier as the regular season comes to an end.
A special shoutout goes to the fans of the Birmingham Bulls who made the trip to Evansville on the weekend. Players and coaches alike were glad to hear the cheering from the stands. Evansville play-by-play announcer Tommy Pecoraro made mention in the radio broadcast that it was the largest group of visiting fans he’s seen this season.
Sin Bin Bulls’ Three Stars of the Weekend
★★★ – Mike Crocock – When you sign an amateur tryout, you are basically told you’ve got three games to impress. Well, two goals and an assist in two games and a +3 rating is pretty impressive.
★★ – Mavric Parks – 33 saves on 33 shots, picked up his fifth shutout of the season.
★ – Josh Harris – Harris had a pair of goals, a pair of assist and was a +4 for the weekend.