BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Birmingham Bulls checked off one of the preseason goals this weekend. With Friday nights win over the Knoxville Ice Bears, the Bulls became the second team to clinch a playoff spot this season. Barring a collapse of epic fortunes, the Bulls will have home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Talking with Coach Jamey Hicks and Bulls Captain Craig Simchuk, both were happy and excited, but have bigger plans in sight. Hicks stated, “I’m happy for the guys obviously, I’m happy for the organization. Hopefully it’s the first of many.” Simchuk followed up, “It’s definitely exciting, coming from last year, second-year organization, we fell short last year, this year, it’s just step one. Our goal isn’t just to make playoffs, we have much bigger things in store for that team in the locker room.”
Birmingham didn’t do it the easy way on Friday night. Trailing 2-1 to start the third period, the Bulls needed late goals from Taylor Dickin and Josh Harris to pick up the win. The win solidified the playoff berth, but thanks to Evansville defeating Quad City earlier in the evening, the Bulls were locked in, win or lose.
After the game, Coach Hicks was pleased with the win, but not pleased with the game. “We always talk about the process, I thought we took a step back tonight, I didn’t think we played a strong game tonight, when you have those off nights, and you find a way to win, it’s a good sign.”
Aside from clinching the playoffs on Friday the highlight of the evening was nothing short of a beatdown of a fight. Former Birmingham Bull Christian Whitcomb was doing what he could to make an impression on his new team. Unfortunately for Whitcomb that meant picking a fight with one of Birmingham’s heavyweights, Russell Jordan. As called by Bulls play by play man, Eli Gold, “Now Jordan in a bit of a pushing and shoving match with Whitcomb. Jordan, oh my, Jordan with a right and a right and a right and a right and an uppercut and a right over the top and an uppercut, down goes Whitcomb.” Whitcomb never landed a punch in the whole exchange.
Saturday night was not as good an evening for the Birmingham Bulls or the folks who make and manage the ice at the Pelham Civic Center. The Bulls fell to the Ice Bears 4-1 in the game, but the overwhelming commentary after the game was the condition of the ice. Player after player off the record said it was the worst ice they’ve ever played on. On the record, Coach Hicks had this to say pointing towards the ice, “Take a look, that’s how we played, slushy… You know we’re a puck possession team, So that definitely doesn’t help us.”
Before starting with The Sin Bin this season, I have worked with, watched, and covered teams playing at the Pelham Civic Complex since 2004. The building has had issues with the ice on the main rink since as far back as I can remember. At one point, during a WHA2 playoff game between the Alabama Slammers and Macon Trax, the game had to be moved to the practice rink during the game, because of a hole developing in the ice.
All season long, players and coaches have had gripes about the ice and the conditions in the arena at the PCC. With the Bulls now locked into the playoffs, there will be hockey in the spring when the weather outside is warmer. I can only hope the management in Pelham can fix whatever is causing the ice to be “slushy,” because nothing would be worse than losing in the playoffs because of poor ice conditions.
This coming weekend Birmingham will have their final three games in three nights stretch. This stretch is unique as the Bulls will play three games, three nights, against three teams, and in three different cities. The Bulls will play on the road at Macon on Thursday night, travel to Huntsville on Friday night, before playing at home against Evansville on Saturday evening. Coach Hicks on the last of the three in three this season, “We’re excited for the challenge, you know what I mean.”
Sin Bin Bulls Three Stars of the Weekend
Third Star – Craig Simchuk. Simchuk had a pair of assists on the weekend including the game-tying goal in Friday night’s game.
Second Star – Josh Harris. Harris has become the closer of late for the Bulls. On Friday night Harris picked up his third game-winning goal in as many contests.