BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – In a season that has been marred by struggles offensively, defensively, and at times in between the pipes, there’s good news for the Birmingham Bulls: the only direction to go from here is up. The weekend sweep from the Peoria Rivermen, combined with the Roanoke Railyard Dawgs sweep of the Fayetteville Marksmen, have pushed the Bulls into 10th place in the SPHL standings.
Coming into the weekend against the Rivermen, there was hope in Birmingham. Despite being the SPHL’s most dominant regular season team over the last three seasons, Peoria had yet to skate off the ice at the Pelham Civic Complex with a win. In five games, the Rivermen where 0-1-4 against the Bulls in Birmingham. On Friday night, the outstanding play of Peoria’s Eric Levine would snap that streak.
Levine recorded his fourth shutout of the regular season with a 4-0 blanking of the Bulls. That shutout was the first at home against Birmingham since a 7-0 loss to the Macon Mayhem on April 6, 2018. It wasn’t like Birmingham did not have their chances against Levine on Friday night; the Bulls outshot the the Rivermen in the second and third period 22-20, but could not get anything past the impressive Levine.
Saturday evening saw a totally different game played, at least in the first period. Peoria would score first (just like Friday evening) thanks to a wicked shot from Cody Dion. Unlike Friday night, Birmingham would respond. Aaron Huffnagle and Karel Drahorad would each pick up their first goals at home, as the Bulls would carry a 2-1 lead 12 minutes into the first period.
The Rivermen would respond with two goals in 12 seconds to regain the lead, 3-2, with 5:14 remaining in the first period. Birmingham captain and reigning league MVP Josh Harris tied the game back up for the Bulls, sneaking a wrist shot by Levine with 4:36 remaining in the period. Harris’ goal capped off a first period that saw Birmingham and Peoria combine for six goals on just 23 shots.
The second period…well, that’s when the wheels fell off the momentum bus for Birmingham. Three different players would score for the Rivermen in the second period, as they would take a three-goal lead to the locker room after 40 minutes of play. The final period saw the Bulls cut the lead back down to two goals with 1:11 left in the game, but a Jordan Carvalho empty-net goal would snap any chance of a Birmingham comeback.
Birmingham Head Coach Jamey Hicks was understandably frustrated after Saturday night’s game.
“Tonight’s game was our team — inconsistent. Hot and cold all night, and got to be better.”
If there is a highlight from the game, it would be the fact that three of the Bulls’ four goals came from guys who entered the night each with only one goal. Coach Hicks was complementary of the help on the scoresheet, but framed his perspective on the outcome of the game.
“We need secondary scoring,” Hicks said. “(But) we lost the game. we didn’t get what we set out to do.”
What’s next for Birmingham is three games in four nights. The Bulls will host the Knoxville Ice Bears on Wednesday, January 8 for a 7:30pm CST faceoff. Birmingham will then travel to Roanoke on Friday evening for the first of a home-and-home set with the Railyard Dawgs.
As week two of 2020 now begins, it doesn’t take a genius to realize Birmingham needs to find the cure to what has ailed the team all season, and much sooner than later. The play of this team has been disappointing to anyone who has watched. There is something missing with the team, and until that is found, I believe the season will continue like Saturday night’s game was — inconsistent.
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