BIRMINGHAM, ALA – A local sports talk host here in Birmingham coined the phrase, “shoot more, score more,” last season when discussing the Stanley Cup playoffs. The phrase came as a sort of smart aleck response to the minority of fans in the area who like hockey. As most who read this would know, in Birmingham, Alabama it is football season 24/7/365, and to even consider talking about a “Northern Sport” like hockey is just foolish.
The 2018-19 Birmingham Bulls have turned that mantra on its proverbial head this season. After Saturday night’s game, the Bulls have been out-shot in 15 of 21 games this season. For the season, Birmingham has been out-shot by its opponents 691-622. Despite such a discrepancy in shots, the Bulls sit 17-4-0 at the Christmas break. This weekend was further proof that the mantra “shoot more, score more” might be more hot air than an actual fact.
With a weekend split against the Knoxville Ice Bears, Birmingham won the game they had the fewer shots in. Assisted by another outstanding performance from Mavric Parks on Friday night, Birmingham won 3-0. Parks stopped all 36 shot attempts from the Ice Bears on the way to his third shutout of the season. The Bulls scored three goals with just 23 shots on Knoxville netminder Michael Santaguida. For Birmingham, it was the 10th win in 11 tries at home and ninth-straight win on Friday night.
Similar to last Friday night against Pensacola, the 2,122 fans at the Pelham Civic Complex were treated to a pair of quality fights within two minutes of each other. Craig Simchuk got the show started when David Higgs decided he wanted to dance with the Bulls captain. Two punches into the fight, Higgs realized he had made a huge mistake – but to his credit, he stood toe to toe with Simchuk, despite eventually losing the fight.
Fan favorite Loren Ulett couldn’t let his captain have all the fun. 1:17 later in the second period, Ulett and Ice Bears Joe Tolles squared off in the Bulls offensive zone. This fight lasted a lot longer than the first fight of the period. Ulett and Tolles traded multiple punches, but Ulett was able to send Tolles to the ground with a massive uppercut.
Talking with Simchuk after the game, he stated:
“It’s good to get back in the win column, after last Saturday… Parks stood on his head as usual.”
I asked Parks what’s the difference been between last season and this season?
“you play as the years go on, you find what works for you and what doesn’t… Certain aspects to add and take out of your routine on a daily basis…,” Parks said. “It’s hard to say, my goal is to improve every day, and every week and every year. That’s just me as an individual.”
Coach Jamey Hicks was complimentary towards the Knoxville team and their coach Jeff Carr after Friday night’s game.
“They played extremely well, they play a fast-paced game, I thought it was enjoyable, for the fans anyway… Jeff does a great job over there, he’s recruited well, he’s recruited guys that fit his style.”
On Saturday evening, though the final margin of victory would be the same, it was a different team with the win. The Ice Bears ended the Parks back-to-back shutout attempt 6:10 into the first period. Bryce Nielsen launched a slap shot from the top of the slot, beating Parks and giving Knoxville a 1-0 lead.
Despite tying the game up twice, the Bulls could never pull ahead in the game. Birmingham fired off a season-high 41 shots on goal in the losing effort. However, Ice Bears goalie Hayden Stewart was more than effective in his first start for Knoxville in over a month. Stewart would stop 39 of the 41 shots taken by Birmingham to pick up the win, his first since a November 2nd victory over the Roanoke Railyard Dawgs. Josh Harris and Justin Larson were the only two Bulls who could get anything past Stewart on Saturday evening.
The loss on Saturday night puts Birmingham somewhere they haven’t been this season. With wins from the Macon Mayhem and Peoria Rivermen on Saturday, the Bulls are now third in the SPHL standings. The argument could be made that Birmingham has played the tougher schedule of the three teams this season, but that doesn’t matter right now. The Bulls are looking up at two teams for the first time this season.
The question will be, how does Birmingham respond next weekend?
The Bulls will play a home-and-home series with the Pensacola Ice Flyers. If there is a team in the SPHL this season which could help Birmingham climb back to the top of the standings, it is the offensively-challenged Ice Flyers.
Bulls Three Stars of the Weekend
First Star – Parks, Parks went 1-1 on the weekend. On Friday night Parks recorded his SPHL-leading third shutout and 13th win of the season.
Second Star – Harris. Harris extended his game points streak to six games with two assists on Friday and a goal on Saturday.
Third Star – Davis Davis made his return to Birmingham from Norfolk of the ECHL with a goal and two assists on Friday night.