PELHAM, Ala. – Don’t be alarmed if you saw smoke coming from the bench of the Pensacola Ice Flyers during their game against the Birmingham Bulls at the Pelham Civic Center on Mardi Gras night. No fire alarms were sounded, only the din of the goal horn as the Bulls capitalized on repeated Ice Flyers’ errors, extending their winning streak to five games – the longest current streak in the SPHL – in a 5-3 result.
The home-standing Bulls, winners of four of their last five games at the PCC, started off the game looking like a far cry from the early weeks of the season when the expansion team lost their first seven SPHL games. Birmingham, aggressive and sharp on the forecheck, saw their efforts pay off early when Jacob Barber found enough open space down low to beat Pensacola starter Gordon Defiel to open the scoring 2:31 after the opening puck drop.
The Bulls’ pressure held up for the first half of the opening frame, but the Ice Flyers – the SPHL’s top team for the majority of the season – took back control of the game. Garrett Milan, the Flyers’ leading scorer, dished a pretty pass for Charlie Adams, who has a team-high eight points going into tonight’s contest. Adams lined up the one-time shot and blasted the puck past Birmingham’s bell-cow in net, Mavric Parks, and evened up the game.
Soon after Adams’ marker at the 9:31 mark of the first period, the errors began for the league leaders. Troy Vance, who contributed with two assists on the evening, misplayed the puck on a clearout attempt over the defensive zone glass for a delay of game penalty. Barber immediately capitalized on the ensuing power play, outmaneuvered Trever Hertz, then moved in for a snap shot which resulted in the second goal of the game for the Rivermen ex-pat. Barber’s goal – the fifth in his last two games – at the 10:38 mark of the opening period was Defiel’s last of the night. Pensacola coach Jeff Bes elected to replace the league leader in goals against average for Brian Billett, the victorious goaltender in the previous two Ice Flyers wins.
The Flyers would eventually even up the game in the final moments of a slower-paced second period. Jessyko Bernard notched his 20th goal of the season, extending his goal-scoring streak to three games. Vance’s shot from the blue line deflected off of Bernard and past Parks. After two periods in the night’s contest, the game was tied at two goals apiece.
The third period took on a more frantic persona, with both sides playing a bit less disciplined than the first two frames. Like the first act, the game’s final act began with an early Birmingham goal. Brandon Fehd picked up a big rebound off of an Andrew Darrigo shot off of Billet, easily netting the puck past the Pensacola netminder as Birmingham again regained the lead.
At this point, the errors began to mount for both sides. Shayne Morrissey was rung up for tripping while play was in the Flyers’ offensive zone. During the following power play for Birmingham, John Rey would nullify the man advantage with a roughing call. Following Rey’s penalty was an interference penalty on Darrigo, giving the Flyers a brief stint of five-on-three power play time. The call on Darrigo was borderline and was followed by an equally soft holding call on Bernard eleven seconds later, quickly ending the two-man advantage for Pensacola.
After Vance threw a puck on net which tipped off the stick of Ken Neil to again even up the game for Pensacola, the Flyers, rung up by referee Cameron Fleming for five minor penalties in the final frame, would shoot themselves in the skates again. This time, the second major faux pas proved fatal for the Flyers. Less than two minutes after evening the game off of his stick, Neil – again in his offensive zone – had to sit for high sticking. Twelve seconds later, Josh Cousineau would join Neil in the Pit of Misery after a slash, giving the Bulls a five-on-three advantage of their own.
Barber and Rey would team up on the goal which put the Bulls ahead for good. Rey’s one-timer laser from the left point rocketed past a partially-screened Billet (by his defender), and for the fourth time in the match, the Bulls took the lead.
A few minutes later, the Flyers would commit their third infraction while in the offensive zone, almost setting off the smoke alarm from Coach Bes and the Pensacola bench. This time, Kyle Haines‘ stick got up in Sean Gammage’s face, giving Pensacola two fewer minutes to score an equalizer.
The Bulls, no innocent party in a period filled with unforced errors, would be caught with too many men on the ice with 2:03 remaining in the game. The power play, along with Bes pulling Billet for a sixth skater, would result in a much longer two-man advantage than earlier in the period. The moderate-risk gamble would not pay dividends for Bes and his Ice Flyers. Vance would misplay the puck at the left point, sending the biscuit to the wrong side of the blue line, causing the team to reset the play rather than set up scoring chances. Soon after, Graham Yeo blocked a crushing shot by Flyers’ defenseman Nathan Bruyere, then a much softer try from Milan, deflecting the loose puck to Phil Tesoriero. The puck bounced its way to an open Rey, sending the puck 170 feet down the ice into the empty Pensacola net for the four-on-six shorthanded goal.
The loss, Pensacola’s third in their last five games, keeps the Ice Flyers from extending their one-point standings advantage over second-place Peoria. Meanwhile, the Bulls – long in last place for the majority of the season – are now in a tie for the eighth and final postseason berth with the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs. Birmingham and Roanoke meet one more time this season, in Pelham on March 17th, in the rubber match of the teams’ three-game season series. On the same weekend, the Ice Flyers will again host Peoria at the Hangar – a building the Rivermen have not won in since January 31st, 2015.
Tonight’s Three Stars
★ – Jacob Barber – Birmingham – Two goals, Assist
★★ – John Rey – Birmingham – Two goals, Game-Winning Goal, +1
★★★ – Graham Yeo – Birmingham – Assist, +1
|Birmingham – Jacob Barber (Steven Phee) 2:31
Pensacola – Charlie Adams (Garrett Milan, Christian Weidauer) 9:31
Birmingham – Jacob Barber (power play) (Evan Schultz, Steven Phee) 10:38
|Pensacola – Jessyko Bernard (Troy Vance, David Mazurek) 19:17|
|Birmingham – Brandon Fehd (Andrew Darrigo, Graham Yeo) 2:06
Pensacola – Ken Neil (Troy Vance, Jari Allevi) 9:34
Birmingham – John Rey (power play) (Jacob Barber, Steven Phee) 12:29
Birmingham – John Rey (empty net) (Phil Tesoriero) 19:39
|Birmingham – Shane Topf – (Tripping), 2 MIN, 5:42
Pensacola – Troy Vance – (Delay of Game), 2 MIN, 10:17
Pensacola – Charlie Adams – (Slashing), 2 MIN, 11:17
Pensacola – Kyle Haines – (Roughing), 2 MIN, 18:52
|Birmingham – Sean Gammage – (Tripping), 2 MIN, 6:40|
|Pensacola – Shayne Morrissey – (Tripping), 2 MIN, 3:40
Birmingham – John Rey – (Roughing), 2 MIN, 4:54
Birmingham – Andrew Darrigo – (Interference), 2 MIN, 6:20
Pensacola – Jessyko Bernard – (Holding), 2 MIN, 6:31
Pensacola – Ken Neil – (High Sticking), 2 MIN, 11:25
Pensacola – Josh Cousineau – (Slashing), 2 MIN, 11:37
Pensacola – Kyle Haines – (High Sticking), 2 MIN, 15:07
Birmingham – Evan Schultz – (Too Many Men) (Bench Minor), 2 MIN, 17:57
Stats Courtesy Pointstreak/SPHL