Andrew Darrigo, one of the alternate captains for the Birmingham Bulls this season, has been away from the team since last playing January 5th, 2019 at Knoxville. When asked the team simply stated it was for “Personal reasons.” On Friday afternoon, via Facebook, Darrigo explained his absence to the Bulls’ faithful.
“A few weeks ago I was told that I have testicular cancer. It hasn’t been easy but with the support of my family, friends, teammates and the Bulls organization and Bulls fans. It made things a lot better knowing the love and support I have behind me. The doctor is very positive about the outcome. Now I’m just looking forward to the next steps and getting healthy! I encourage anyone if you have any signs that something isn’t right to go and see a doctor and make your health a priority.” Andrew Darrigo on January 25, 2019.
While the cancer disclosure was an emotional blow to the fans and supporters of the Birmingham Bulls, it was a relief to the players, coaches, and staff who could now openly talk about what they have known since Darrigo left the team three weeks ago. Now it was time to focus on the opponent of the weekend, the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs.
Friday evening, trailing 2-0 late in the second period, the SPHL leading Birmingham power play would become a deciding force. Josh Harris (Mike Davis, Craig Simchuk) cut the Roanoke lead to 2-1. Early in the third period, Mike Davis (Jacob Barber, Garrett Schmitz) beat Brad Barone with a slap shot from the middle of the slot to tie the game 2-2. The Rail Yard Dawgs regained the lead off a goal from Jordan Carvalho, but that wouldn’t last very long. After high sticking penalty to Roanoke’s Colin Murray, it would take only nine-seconds for the Bulls to tie it up. Justin Larson (Matt Fuller, Taylor Dickin) unleashed one of his howitzer-like shots and tied the game at 3-3.
The game would go to overtime, and with just 1:07 remaining in the extra period, Schmitz would take a pass from Dickin and pop Barone’s water bottle way up in the air, giving Birmingham a 4-3 win. The loss for the Rail Yard Dawgs was their first of the season in overtime.
When asked about the game afterward, an emotional Jamey Hicks said, “I liked our game tonight, I think it was a good entertaining game for the fans” The emotions came when talking about Andrew Darrigo, “We’ve had a tough ten days, of course. Our man, people didn’t know… it’s tough… real tough.”
Saturday night would be a much more physical game, but the results would be the same. Roanoke would take an early lead on a goal from Zach Nieminen (Ben Bauer, Jesse Schwartz). Birmingham would tie it on a shot by Kasey Kulczycki (Sam Williams, Shane Topf) which was initially stopped by Jacob Caffrey but trickled over the goal line. The Rail Yard Dawgs would retake the lead when Mac Jansen (Colin Murray, Steve Mele) hammered a Parks rebound home. Once again though, the resilient Bulls would tie it again, this time on a goal from Topf (Caleb Apperson, Kulczycki).
In the third period, the chippiness of the game would spill over into a glorified scrum behind the Roanoke goal. All weekend long, it looked as though the purpose of Rail Yard Dawgs 6’5” defenseman Travis Armstrong was to poke, prod, and physically intimidate a much smaller Harris. After another questionable hit on Harris, chaos erupted. Except for the goaltenders, everyone on the ice was trying to get a piece of someone. When the dust settled, what looked like a couple of fights was just considered boys being boys, and the only penalties went to Armstrong, Harris, and Apperson. The game would be tied at the end of regulation giving the fans bonus hockey for the second night.
During the five-minute overtime period, only Birmingham could muster a shot on goal, sending the game to a shootout to determine the winner. Parks would stand tall in net for Birmingham turning away all four Roanoke shooters. Jacob Barber would go out second for the Bulls in the shootout and beat Jacob Caffrey for the game-winning goal.
The win for Birmingham gives them a weekend sweep for the first time since a pair of wins over Pensacola on November 30th and December 2nd. After the game, Coach Hicks said, “It was a good game, could have gone either way” When asked about the skirmish in the third period, “It’s just one of those things.”
The weekend sweep for Birmingham put them back in sole possession of second place in the SPHL standing. The Bulls will finish up the regular season part of the scheduled games with the Pensacola Ice Flyers next weekend with a home and home series. Birmingham will travel to Pensacola on Friday night, before both team head up I-65 for a game in Pelham on Saturday night.
The Sin Bin Bulls Three Stars of the Weekend
Third Star – Mavric Parks – Parks was exceptional this weekend in a pair of wins for the Bulls. Parks had a .919 save percentage for the weekend and 2.34 goals against average including a perfect performance in the shootout on Saturday night.
Second Star – Mike Davis – Davis had a goal and two assists on the weekend. His power play goal on Friday was a power play goal, one of three Birmingham would have on the night.
First Star – Andrew Darrigo – Since joining the Bulls last season, Darrigo has been a leader on and off the ice. Not only that, he’s been a friend to myself, and I’ve never seen him not smiling. I’m praying for a quick recovery for the player known as “Dodge” and for my friend, Andrew Darrigo.