FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – On Friday night at the Crown Coliseum, there were a pair of firsts for Birmingham, one good, and one that would rather soon be forgotten. The good was the fact it was the first playoff game for the SPHL-era Birmingham Bulls. After failing to make the playoffs in their first season, the Bulls entered tonight as the second seed in the SPHL. Forgettably, when the final horn sounded, it was the first time in the 2018-19 season that Birmingham was held scoreless.

Jason Pawloski was a brick wall in net for the Fayetteville Marksmen. Pawloski, formerly with the Knoxville Ice Bears, was claimed by the Marksman off waivers on April 2nd was making only his third start for Fayetteville. With Dillon Kelly having been the Marksmen’s starter for most of the season, I was surprised to see the fairly new Pawloski get the start for Fayetteville. Birmingham Coach Jamey Hicks was not. When I asked about Pawloski getting the start, Hicks reply was simple, “No surprise from us, we figured Pawloski would be in there.”

Despite the outstanding play of Pawloski, Birmingham had opportunities early in the game. A pair of penalties on the Marksmen’s David Mazurek midway into the first period gave the Bulls a man advantage twice. However, in the two chances, Birmingham could only manage three shots on goal. Fayetteville got on the board late into the first period on a goal from Brandon McMartin. Sam Wilbur and Darren McCormick were credited with the assist.

In the second period, Birmingham came out as the aggressor, but it was more of the same. Cody Brown beat Mavric Parks 10:27 into the period to increase the Marksmen lead to 2-0. Nolan Sheeran and Taylor McCloy had the assist. After an Austin Daae penalty for holding, the SPHL regular season leading Fayetteville power play cashed in their first of two power play goals. Taylor McCloy fired a shot from just inside the blue line over the blocker side pad of Parks making a 3-0 hole for the higher seeded Bulls.

The third period saw the chippiness of the game come to a head. Cody Melkert and Geoff Crisfield dropped the gloves in front of the Fayetteville net, by the time punches were thrown, they had skated by the Marksmen bench, both players landed a few good shots before wrestling to the ice. Birmingham pulled Parks for the extra attacker with 2:20 left in the game, trying to create a spark. A slashing penalty on Josh Harris would cause Parks to have to reenter the game and give up his final goal of the evening. Jake Hauswirth‘s blast would drive the proverbial nail into the Bulls coffin for this game.

After the game I lead off my interview with coach Hicks, saying it was a tough way to start the playoffs. His answer was almost what I expected, “Not really, you don’t wanna lose, but we deserved to lose. We got outbattled in a lot of areas and we have to be better.” Coach Hicks mentioned that now is what we fought all season, “We fought all year to get these home games, and now we have to take advantage of them.”

Taking advantage is something Birmingham will have to do twice if they don’t want their season to end this weekend. Both teams will load up on their respective buses and make the trip to Birmingham tonight. The Bulls will have home ice this weekend and if they can get past the Marksmen on Saturday and Sunday, Birmingham will have home ice for the remainder of the playoffs as well. The shocker of the evening came in the 2-0 sweep of the top-seeded Peoria Rivermen by the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs. It’s now up to Birmingham to take advantage.