BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Coming into the weekend, the Birmingham Bulls had a winning record against every team in the SPHL this season. The Bulls only needed to win or take a loss in overtime to add the Huntsville Havoc to that list of teams. Thanks to some outstanding goaltending and timely scoring, the Havoc avoided that list with a weekend sweep of the Birmingham Bulls.
Friday night saw the Birmingham Bulls take a 2-0 lead less than 22 minutes into the game. A power play goal from Shane Topf and a breakaway wrist shot from Joe Tolles had the Bulls sitting pretty despite being outshot heavily (14-6 after the first period). Before the first media timeout of the second period, the Havoc had erased that deficit. A pair of goals off the stick of Trevor Gerling had the score tied 2-2 after two periods. The third and final period of the night saw the Havoc take the lead on a slapshot from Peter Sikalis midway into the period. Rob Darrar extended the Huntsville lead when he snuck a shot over Mavric Parks left shoulder.
With an extra attacker on the ice, Birmingham cut the Havoc lead to 4-3 on a backhanded rebound. With time quickly expiring, the Bulls got the puck into the Havoc zone, and fired off a shot with less than a second remaining. As the final horn sounded, the Bulls player thought they had tied the game up. After a quick discussion, the referee ruled that the puck did not cross the goal line in time. Final Score: Huntsville 4, Birmingham 3.
Birmingham Head Coach Jamey Hicks was very disappointed in the level of play from the Bulls:
“Well, we deserved to lose, (but) not in that fashion [the questionable no goal as time expired]. We didn’t play well in the second period. we showed some urgency at the end, but it was too little, too late.”
The loss on Friday set up a season series deciding game. Birmingham had four wins on the season through eight games; Huntsville had the other four. Entering the game, the Bulls had one of the top special teams units in the SPHL. Birmingham had scored on 21.2% of their power play opportunities. The Bulls had also killed off 84.04% of opponent’s power plays. On Saturday night, it would be the lack of execution from those two units that did Birmingham in. The Bulls went 0-6 on the power play. The Havoc went 1-7, with the one goal being a tone setter.
On Saturday night, it was a different kind of game. The Huntsville Havoc were paying tribute to the trilogy of Mighty Duck movies. The Havoc did so by going by the name of the Might Havoc of Huntsville and wore a different jersey from the movies during each period.
Starting the game off, both teams were flying up and down the ice. Huntsville had two quick shots on goal, followed by Birmingham getting off a quick shot, but a tripping penalty on Birmingham in their offensive zone killed the attack. One minute later, the Havoc took a 1-0 lead thanks to a power play goal from Derek Perl. The Huntsville Havoc played a masterful game defensively, getting in the way of the Bulls’ passes and keeping pressure on Birmingham netminder Sebastian Andersson. With less than five minutes remaining in the first period, Tyler Piacentini got a shot past Andersson, making it a 2-0 Huntsville lead.
On the other end of the ice, Havoc goaltender Max Milosek was outstanding in net. When Birmingham was able to get shots off, he was making the quick save and not allowing many second chance opportunities. The only goal for Birmingham came quickly after the first intermission. Just over a minute into the second, Kasey Kulczycki made it a 2-1 game. Both Milosek and Andersson would hold the two teams combining for five power play chances in the second period. In the third period, Birmingham would once again pull the goalie late to try and tie the game with an extra attacker. After a save by Milosek, the Havoc’s Sikalis cleared a rebound the length of the ice into the vacated net. That goal sealed the game for Huntsville. It also sealed the season series, five games to four.
Afterwards, Coach Hicks wasn’t nearly as disappointed as he was just 24-hours earlier:
“I liked a lot of the little things we did tonight. We’re trying to get ready for the playoffs. when you have two good teams (and a) 2-1 score, you don’t wanna lose. we had somethings to build on, for sure.”
I asked what had changed from the start of the season (when Birmingham was 3-0 against Huntsville) to the Havoc winning five of the last six games:
“We’re different teams. (Geoff) Crisfield, (Garrett) Johnston, (Andrew) Darrigo, (Loren) Ulett…you know what I mean, we’re a different team. We have to play a different game against them. I don’t think they’re doing anything different. They’re a well coached team that works hard; they’re the defending champs. Its up to us to knock them off.”
Now Birmingham will need to focus on the next task at hand — a pair of games against the league leading Peoria Rivermen. The Bulls sit ten points back of the Rivermen in the standings with only eight games remaining. If Birmingham is to have any shot of winning the regular season and having first pick in the challenge round, it starts on Friday night, March 15.
The Sin Bin Bulls Three Stars of the Weekend
Third Star: Joe Tolles. Tolles was issued a bet/challenge at a live taping of the Behind The Glass podcast to score a goal over the weekend. The host offered Tolles a steak dinner if he could score. Well, before the ice was fully frozen in the second period, Tolles scored.
Second Star: Josh Harris. Harris is putting up points like the Josh Harris everyone was looking for earlier this season. Harris had a plus-one rating over the weekend with a pair of assists.
First Star(s): Mavric Parks & Sebastian Andersson. Yes, both goalies took losses over the weekend. But, when you combine to face 86 shots and only allow 6 goals, that’s not bad.
Follow Ronald Hagood Jr. on Twitter (@SinBinBulls) for all your Birmingham Bulls coverage!