BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Another weekend is in the books and another season sweep has taken place. For the fourth time this season, the Birmingham Bulls defeated the Fayetteville Marksmen and in doing so, sweep the season series. The Marksmen join the Evansville Thunderbolts, Quad City Storm and Peoria Rivermen as teams who went winless against Birmingham.
The wins this past weekend put Birmingham only one away from tying the SPHL record for wins in the regular season. They’re currently tied with the Peoria Rivermen with 38 wins each, with two games left to play. Despite having the same number of wins as the Rivermen, this weekend has no direct effect on playoff positioning. With their overtime loss to Evansville on Friday, Peoria picked up the one point they needed to clinch the regular season championship and the Coffey Cup.
After the game on Friday night, I mentioned that Peoria had clinched the regular season to coach Jamey Hicks, his reply was as I expected, “Good for them, they do a tremendous job up there.”
Friday night’s game was one of the better games Birmingham has played in my opinion. Just 44 seconds into the game, Josh Harris beat Marksmen goaltender, Dillion Kelley to give Birmingham a 1-0 lead. The quick strike goal would end up being the game-winning goal of the night.
Mavric Parks continues to keep his name in the debate for league MVP. Parks stopped all 25 Fayetteville shots to pick up his sixth shutout of the season. The win was his 29th of the season. Jacob Barber, Mike Davis, Shane Topf and Cole Golka all got shots past Kelley. The final result was 5-0 and was the first time the Bulls had shutout Fayetteville in eight games against.
On Saturday night, it started with a different goalie in net for the Marksmen, but despite trailing 1-0 early in the first, the Bulls would send Nathan Perry to the bench less than halfway into the period. Fayetteville’s Tyler Palmer took away the idea of three consecutive shutouts for Parks, as he gave the Marksmen the lead, just 3:15 into the game.
After a slashing penalty on Darren McCormick gave Birmingham the first power play of the night. The Bulls Geoff Crisfield knocked in a Harris rebound tying the game 1-1. The goal opened the flood gates, as 21 seconds later, Birmingham took the lead for good when Golka scored the game-winning goal put the Bulls up 2-1. Less than two minutes later, Garrett Schmitz picked up Birmingham’s second power play goal, ending the night for Perry and bringing Kelly off the bench to stop the onslaught. This time around, Kelly wouldn’t fair as badly. Only two more Bulls goals were scored (Crisfield & Russell Jordan) as he stopped the other 24 shots he saw.
In the other crease, Parks would not allow another Fayetteville goal until the middle of the third period. Brian Bowen scored with 10:49 to go in the game, making the final score 5-2.
The win clinched the #2 seed for Birmingham in the upcoming playoffs. Birmingham will have the second choice of opponents in the Challenge Round, picking after the Peoria Rivermen and before the Huntsville Havoc.
Coming into the game, the Bulls had struggled on the power play, going 0-17 on their power play chances, having not scoring with the man-advantage since Jacob Barber scored against Peoria on March 16th.
“It’s not really struggles, I don’t look at it as struggles. We’re trying to reinvent it as well, we’ve got guys in the line up that aren’t usually on it. You have to interchange, we’re trying to find those good combinations,” Hicks said.
Whatever combinations he had on the ice Saturday night worked, as the Bulls ended up going 3-6 on the power play.
With the playoff seeding now set, what else does Birmingham have to play for in the regular season?
Josh Harris trails Peoria’s Ben Blasko by four points for the season scoring title. Harris is one goal behind three players tied at 26 goals for the goal scoring title. He is currently tied for the league lead in game-winning goals as well.
Parks currently leads the SPHL in wins, saves and save percentage. His six shutouts are tops in the SPHL and only trails Kyle Rank’s 2013-14 record of eight in a season.
Most interestingly though, Birmingham is only one win away from tying the SPHL record for wins in a season. A weekend sweep would set a new record for the SPHL which can also be accomplished by Peoria as well.
The Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs are the team Birmingham will try to set or break those marks against. On the season, Birmingham is 3-2 against Roanoke, winning twice at home and once on the road. The Rail Yard Dawgs are coming into Birmingham with a chance to still have home-ice advantage in the first round. Roanoke trails the Knoxville Ice Bears by three points for the fourth seed.
I expect this weekends game to be hotly contested as both teams still have something to gain before the playoffs start next weekend.
The Sin Bin Bulls Three Stars
★★★ – Cole Golka. The young man from Ardrossan, Alberta continues to impress. Two more goals over the weekend along with an assist, has him averaging a point per game since his professional debut.
★★ – Geoff Crisfield. Two goals, two assist over the weekend and flirted with a hat-trick on Saturday night.
★ – Mavric Parks, who picked up his league-leading sixth shutout on Friday night, and 30th win of the season on Saturday.