BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – As the final seconds ticked off the clock on Saturday night, the Birmingham Bulls found themselves in a new situation this season. The 5-2 loss at Pensacola along with a 6-3 loss to the Ice Flyers on Friday gives Birmingham a losing weekend for the first time this season. Tack that on to the loss last Saturday in Knoxville, and the team that set the SPHL record for wins to start the season, now are on a three-game losing streak.
The question is what has changed?
When the season started the Birmingham Bulls looked unstoppable. Scoring goals early and often, goaltending that was more solid than the walls of Ft. Knox, and a physical style of play that left opponents winless and hurting. What makes it an issue is not that the Bulls are losing, but how they’re losing. They’re not losing the close game, all the losses this season have been by two or more goals.
During the first 11 games, Birmingham outscored their opponents 45-25. Since that streak, Birmingham has only a 37-35 advantage in scoring. The wall of goaltending that had a goals against average of 2.27 in the first 11 games, has a 2.61 in the last 12 games. Save percentage isn’t much different, a .932 to .922. So what has changed?
I asked Coach Jamey Hicks after Saturday night’s loss about the 6-6 mark in the last 12 games. His reply was, “We knew we would hit turbulence after the strong start. Every team does at some point. All teams go through it. It’s up to the guys to get back to what made us successful early in the season.”
On Friday morning the Bulls announced Garrett Johnston had been loaned to the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers, giving them a short bench on defense. Then on Saturday morning, the SPHL announced Birmingham’s leading scorer, Josh Harris would be sitting out that evening’s game, due to a one-game suspension. According to the leagues, press-release Harris was suspended due to “supplementary discipline as the result of a high-sticking infraction at 17:29 of the second period.”
The suspension of Harris gave Birmingham an even shorter bench for the night. I asked Coach Hicks if the league provided further comment on the Harris suspension his reply was as I would have expected, “League notified us Saturday just before lunch, you will have to ask them for their reasoning.”
This suspension came after one of the more strangely officiated games of the Bulls season. eight different misconduct penalties lead to a total of 114 penalty minutes between the two teams. Of the eight different and various misconduct penalties called in the game, none were on Harris, which is why everyone was left scratching their heads on Saturday.
The good news is, Birmingham will have one more chance in 2018 to pick up a win. The Bulls will make their first trip of the season to Evansville, Indiana to play the Evansville Thunderbolts tonight. The Bulls are undefeated against Evansville this season, but all the wins have come at home. The Thunderbolts are the SPHL’s last place team in the league and have struggled to find any consistency this season. If the Bulls needed an opponent to help them cure what has ailed them, this could be the team. However, as it was proven this weekend, your win/loss record doesn’t matter when the puck hits the ice.
Sin Bin Bulls Three Stars of the Weekend
First Star – Craig Simchuk, who had the Bulls only two goals on Saturday night in Pensacola. With Josh Harris suspended for the game, who was gonna pick up the offense was questioned on Saturday. The Captain was the answer.
Second Star – Josh Harris. The Bulls loss on Friday night could be pinned on a lot of things. One of those isn’t Harris. Harris fired off 11 shots, resulting in a pair of goals and an assist in the loss.
Third Star – Ice Flyers, this is a little different but with reason. The last time Pensacola was in Birmingham, they were dominated. The Bulls skated around them and out physically played them all night. This is a stick tap to a much improved Ice Flyers squad.
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