BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – On Friday evening the Birmingham Bulls returned to what has become the norm this season, which is winning. A pair of wins over the Pensacola Ice Flyers over the weekend moved the Bulls to 13-1-0 on the season and have them tied with the Macon Mayhem for first place.
The transformation of the Bulls from their expansion season has been nothing short of incredible. A huge part has come between the pipes. Mavric Parks is 10-0 with two shutouts to his name. What makes that so remarkable was last season, Parks only had eight wins all season, and the only shutout was a 1-0 shootout loss.
As Coach Jamey Hicks has stated time and again, “Parksie is Parksie.” He’s playing at a high level, when is usually when teams from the ECHL start calling, wanting the player to come up to the “Coast.” Whether or not Parks will accept the call when the phone rings is to be wondered, but I know the fans in Birmingham are hoping he swipes right.
As outstanding as Parks has been in net this season it hasn’t fallen all on him. Charlie Millen and Ben Myers – the latter now with the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs – each have picked up wins for the Bulls this season, and as a team, Birmingham has allowed a league-low 29 goals on the year.
The Bulls have also been a quick start team this season. The Bulls have outscored their opponents 16-5 in the first period. Birmingham has only trailed at the first intermission in three games. Leading the Bulls offense has been the 6’4 center, Justin Larson. Larson is tied for second in the SPHL in goals scored, and total points.
If there are any visible flaws to the Birmingham Bulls this season, it’s been with the man advantage. Birmingham is currently fourth on the power play, but many of those goals have come in bunches. The Bulls have converted on 12 power play opportunities, but have six games this season where they have scored on none. The lack of production on the power play is something that will need to be improved as the season goes if Birmingham is to remain a Presidents Cup contender.
Talking briefly with Coach Hicks after Sunday’s win over Pensacola, he called it, “A great character win.” About the team, Hicks said, “We still have a lot of holes to our game.” On the ending of the 11-game winning streak and the starting of a new run, “We’re gonna lose our games, its how you respond, how you come back from it,” Hicks stated.
Spending a few minutes with Captain, Craig Simchuk who had a pair of goals including the game-winner on Sunday afternoon. On playing a Sunday matinee game, the Bulls captain opined, “It’s a Sunday afternoon game, it’s not one of the easiest to get up to. It’s part of the job.”
“The crowd and the teddy bears kinda got us going a bit.”
As mentioned by Simchuk, the Birmingham Bulls had their annual Teddy Bear Toss on Sunday afternoon. When Simchuk scored 5:58 into the first period, 956 teddy bears came raining down from the seats. The teddy bears are then donated to Toys for Tots for Christmas gifts.
Three Stars of the Weekend
First Star – Mavric Parks
I’m beginning to run out of adjectives to describe the play of Parks. When I think he’s played his best game of the season, he turns around and performs better. Parks stopped 78 of 79 shots faced this weekend, including his second shutout in as many weekends.
Second Star – Craig Simchuk
Simchuk is putting up offensive numbers this season, like many in Birmingham didn’t know he could do. Another two-goal game on Sunday has him tied for second on the Bulls in points.
Third Star – Nick Owen
Owen, who has seen limited playing time this season, stepped up when it was his time this weekend. He picked up the first goal on Friday night in Pensacola, which turned out to be the game winner. He added an assist on Sunday afternoon as well.
Next in the Bull Ring
This coming week, Birmingham sets out on a long road trip. The Bulls will face-off with the Roanoke Yard Dawgs on Thursday night in Roanoke, Virginia. Awaiting Birmingham will be former goaltender Ben Myers, it will be interesting to see if Myers will get the start against his former team on Thursday night.
The Bulls will then head a few miles down the Atlantic coast for a day off on Friday. Initially scheduled for a Friday/Saturday series, Birmingham will have Friday off. The Bulls will play the Fayetteville Marksmen on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon before returning to the friendly confines of the Pelham Civic Complex.