BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – With an atmosphere that is often reserved for games between the University of Alabama and the Auburn Tigers, the Birmingham Bulls and Huntsville Havoc faced off in front of 3400+ enthusiastic fans in game one of the 2019 President’s Cup Finals. As in every great rivalry, this game had momentum swings, physical play, and timely scoring. When all was said and done on Friday night, the visiting Huntsville Havoc picked up the win in overtime, 4-3.
Birmingham was first on the scoreboard when Mike Davis came streaking through the slot and backhanded a pass from Josh Harris past Max Milosek for the goal. The goal was Davis’ second of the playoffs and was the only tally on the scoreboard in the first period. Despite trailing by a goal, Huntsville outshot the Bulls 11-10 in the first period.
The second period saw the Havoc show the fans and the league why they are the reigning champions. Before the first media timeout could be called, Huntsville had erased the 1-0 Birmingham lead and taken a 2-1 advantage. Derek Perl picked up the tying goal, 1:29 into the period and Sy Nutkevitch gave the Havoc their first lead 1:18 later. The Bulls staved off the momentum that Huntsville was building and had scoring chances aplenty in the period. After a Nolan Kaiser slashing penalty set up Birmingham with their second power-play opportunity of the evening. Kyle Sharkey deflected a Bulls pass to Tyler Piacentini who when is given a one on one chance with any goaltender is successful, beat Mavric Parks with a backhander for the shorthanded goal. After 40 minutes in the books, the reigning champions lead 3-1 and outshot Birmingham 13-9.
As fast as the Havoc came out to start the second period, the Bulls came out in the third. Just 19-seconds into the period, Huntsville’s Trevor Gerling was whistled for holding. Jacob Barber deflected a Geoff Crisfield shot past Milosek for the power play goal, cutting the Havoc lead to 3-2. Birmingham evened the game up, two and half minutes later, on a Cole Golka snipe shot. Golka who earlier in the play missed on an assist to Austin Daae, picked up the puck and circled around faceoff circle to the left of Milosek and blasted a shot from the middle of the slot for the game-tying goal.
The intensity of the game was on display in the third period more than any other on the evening, hard checks, after a devastating mid-ice check from Bulls alternate captain Andrew Darrigo on the Havoc captain, Christian Powers wasn’t received well, Peter Sikalis came to defend the honor of his captain and both him and Darrigo traded hammers for the better part of 30-seconds.
A double minor to Ryan Salkeld for high sticking on Birmingham’s Shane Topf, which left Topf riving in pain at center ice and needing to go to the locker room to be stitched up. Gave Birmingham their biggest opportunity to retake the lead. The Bulls would get four shots on net during the extended power play, but Milosek wouldn’t allow any of them behind him. Regulation would end with the game tied 3-3. Huntsville outshot Birmingham for the third straight period 12-11.
One could ask and even wonder if during overtime, the Havoc might have had a slight advantage. Huntsville was entering their fourth overtime of the playoff season. The Bulls had not needed more than 60 minutes to decide a game since a 4-3 shootout win over Peoria on March 16th. Both teams had their chances in overtime, but it was the Havoc with the last shot. Huntsville had a 2-on-1 opportunity and Rob Darrar ended it 5:44 into the extra frame and putting the Havoc one game away from back to back championships.
After the game, Huntsville coach, Glenn Detulleo had high praise for the atmosphere of the game and the raucousness of his fans. When asked if he expected the Pelham Civic Complex to be as loud as it was, he had this to say:
“we knew we would have a strong contingent of Huntsville fans coming down and because it’s such a tight atmosphere and the roof is so low and the acoustics are so good, we knew they would be loud. Once they start going, it kinda brings the Birmingham fans and they’re going back and forth it was great.”
A much more subdued Jamey Hicks reflected on what went wrong during the game. On the Havoc taking the lead early in the second period:
“Obviously we had a bad stretch there in the second period, but we had one at the start of the game too.”
Saying the team would some changes going into game two, Hicks was asked what adjustments would be made, and well…
“I can’t tell you; you want me to walk down the hall and tell Glenn?” Hicks sarcastically asked. “Yeah, we’ll make a couple of adjustments and go from there.”
So just like in the previous two rounds of the playoffs, Birmingham has their backs against the wall. In round one, they overcame a game one loss to advance and in round two they fought back to win their second elimination game of the playoffs. To say they’ll have to play like there is no tomorrow sounds cliché, and it is, but it’s also the truth of the situation. .500 hockey gets you eliminated at this point if you’re the Bulls, so the end of the season is at the doorstep, it’s up to the guys from the Magic City on when they answer the door and what the results will be.