BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – What a difference a couple of weeks can make on the perspective of a team. After a three-game losing streak and having a less than stellar win/loss record the majority of January, the Birmingham Bulls have bounced back in a big way of late. Back to back weekend sweeps have the Bulls on a four-game winning streak and more importantly, created a small five-point cushion over third place in the standings.
Starting the week off was the announcement that Birmingham Bulls coach Jamey Hicks was selected to be the coach for #TeamSouth in the upcoming SPHL All-Star Fan Vote and Jersey Auction. A unanimous choice by the other nine coaches in the SPHL is a true reflection on the season Birmingham has had to this point.
This weekend saw the regular season end of games against the Pensacola Ice Flyers. Birmingham finished the season with a 6-3-1 mark over the Ice Flyers including winning the last two games this weekend. While it doesn’t seem to make much logical sense to be done with one of your closest rivals this early in the season, from this writers eyes I am glad, because Pensacola is a rapidly improving team.
Friday night, Birmingham hit the road for the first of a home-and-home with the Ice Flyers. Sebastian Andersson got the start in net for Birmingham and was under fire all night long. Pensacola dominated the shots on goal for the evening, outshooting the Bulls 47-26, but Andersson was a wall in goal. The only goals for the Ice Flyers came in the second period on a couple of rebounds with multiple opportunities in front of the goal. Andrew Schmit (Josh Cousineau and Matt Johnson) and Tim Moore (Daniel Perigo and Brandon Rumble) each scored in the period giving Pensacola a 2-1 lead after two periods of play.
Where it seemed like the Ice Flyers had dominated the first two periods, it was the third and final period that belonged to Birmingham. Former Ice Flyer, Russell Jordan (Garrett Schmitz) tied the game for the Bulls early in the third, and Shane Topf (Jacob Barber and Mike Davis) picked up what would be the game-winner less than a minute later. Just past halfway in the period, Davis (Barber and Schmitz) scored on a shot that trickled past Pensacola goalie Sammy Bernard making the final score 4-2. The win was the first in the SPHL for Andersson and improved his record to 1-1 on the season.
Head Coach Jamey Hicks heaped praise was on Andersson after Friday night’s game: “He’s been real good since the first day he’s got here,” Hicks said. “We wanted to give him some time to get acclimated. We put him in early as soon as he got here, so he knew the speed of the game, so it gave him a test to know where he had to get to.”
On Saturday night, it was time for a special jersey night for the Birmingham Bulls. “Man of Steel” night was the theme with jerseys that closely resembled a superhero from the planet Krypton. Whereas on Friday night it was a one-sided contest in the shots on goal category, Saturday was a back and forth shooting gallery on the starting netminders. Mavric Parks got the nod for Birmingham and Brian Billett for Pensacola.
Billett had been on a hot streak against the Bulls as of late. He had won his last three starts against Birmingham and was 2-0 in January with a 2.48 goals against average and an incredible .922 save percentage. For his career, coming into the game he was 7-2-1 against the Bulls. Parks has been equally as solid in net against the Ice Flyers, a 3-1-1 record on the season with an outstanding 2.21 GAA.
Both goalies would be the stars of the show for the evening, and a couple of fluke goals would be what will be talked about from the evening. In the second period, with the score tied 1-1 Pensacola’s Schmit fired a shot in on Parks, the shot was deflected and landed on the 3-0 of Parks’ jersey. It then trickled across the goal line giving the Ice Flyers a 2-1 lead. After tying the game in regulation, Justin Larson was the third shooter out for Birmingham in the shootout. After initially stopping the shot, the puck fell between the legs of Billett. Not able to see where the puck was, Billett went to stride back in the crease and kicked the puck across the goal line. Thanks to Parks stopping all Ice Flyers attempts in the shootout, this was the game-winning goal off the stick of Larson and the heel of the blade of Brian Billett.
After the game, Coach Hicks was proud but still critical of the Bulls. “We’re still in the process, there’s holes in our game. I like that we battled back again, but at the end of the day we’ve got to keep getting better.”
The two wins for the weekend gives Birmingham a 24-9-2 record on the season. That’s two more wins than the Bulls were able to manage for all of the 2017-18 season. Next weekend, the Bulls will head up to the Shenandoah Valley for a pair of games against the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs. The Dawgs will be hungry and looking to take the season series from Birmingham after dropping a pair of overtime games last weekend against the Bulls. Face-off for both games is 7:05 pm EST.
Sin Bin Bulls Three Stars of the Weekend
★★★ – Mavric Parks and Sebastian Andersson. Both goalies played out of their minds this weekend. In the two games against Pensacola, they faced a combined 91 shots, stopping 87 of them. Andersson picked up his first SPHL win, Parks got his league-leading 19th of the season.
★★ – Austin Daae, Daae continues to put up numbers for the Bulls. A pair of goals and an assist this weekend give Daae 20 points now on the season.
★ – Justin Larson, It seems like if your Birmingham and you need a big goal late in the game, you let the man with the cannon-like slap shot do his thing. Scoring the game-tying and game-winning goals on Saturday is not a bad way to finish the weekend.
A special star and stick tap goes up the road to the fans of the Huntsville Havoc. On Saturday night they hosted the 13th annual Melissa George night for the NICU of Huntsville Hospital. The Havoc faithful raised a mind-blowing $62,346 between the jersey auction and other raffled items.