PELHAM, Ala. – After a lackluster performance during the 2021-22 season, the Birmingham Bulls are looking to make significant strides after missing the playoffs for the second straight year. Entering the franchise’s sixth season, there are a lot of familiar faces, along with some new ones, as we look ahead to the 22-23 season. Captain Mike Davis is back for his fifth full season with the Bulls. The coaching staff will stay the same, with Craig Simchuk behind the bench as the head coach and Kevin Kerr as the assistant coach. Simchuk and the Bulls are looking not just to make the playoffs but make a deep run, much like they did during the 2018-19 season when they fell to in-state rival the Huntsville Havoc in the finals.
LAST SEASON IN REVIEW
Record & Playoff Appearance: 18-32-5-1 (9th in the SPHL). Birmingham did not make the playoffs.
Season Summary: The Bulls started last season off on the wrong foot, dropping their first four games before finally notching a victory in a wild 7-6 shootout victory of the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs. They would finish October with a 1-5 record.
November wasn’t much better for the team, as they would go on to only capture a single victory throughout the entirety of the month. The losses started to really pile up when the team went on an eight-game losing streak between November 13 and December 10, before being able to right the ship in a 2-0 shutout over the Vermilion County Bobcats. Shortly after the weekend in Danville, the team brought veteran coach Kevin Kerr on board as an assistant. However, the team couldn’t build any momentum and closed out the calendar year on another five-game losing streak.
January was the first month that we saw the team able to put multiple wins together, but they were still searching for answers. In mid-January, the team finally strung together some victories when they won three in a row against Pensacola, Huntsville, & Macon. January and February ended up being the team’s most successful stretch, going 9-8-0-1.
Playoff hopes were still alive heading into March, but the team’s struggles continued, especially on the defensive side. They would allow at least four goals in all but two games. They would split the final four games in April, winning two against the Macon Mayhem and dropping both games at home on the last weekend of the regular season to the Havoc.
Stats: Rookie forward Carson Rose led the team in scoring with 41 points (24 goals, 17 assists) through 50 games. He was followed by another rookie, Colton Fletcher, who finished the season with 41 points (13 goals, 27 assists).
The Bulls compiled 144 goals which put them ninth in the SPHL, and allowed 198 goals which put them two spots away from the bottom of the league as well.
The power play was only effective 14.7% of the time, putting them again in that 9th place spot. The penalty kill was not much better, killing only 76.1% of their infractions, good for last in the 11-team league.
Key Acquisitions: As previously stated, this roster has been shaken up quite a bit. With 11 new additions, Stepan Timofeyev and Stefan Brucato stand out the most. Both players spent last season with the regular season champion Knoxville Ice Bears and stand to be tremendous additions to an offensive that was lackluster this past season. Timofeyev finished last season with 49 points (23 goals, 26 assists), which was good enough for fourth on the Ice Bears roster. Brucato, who was the team’s captain, comes to the Bulls fresh off a 38-point season (14 goals, 24 assists). Brucato adds some veteran leadership to the team, while Timofeyev will add some speed and great hands to the offense.
In addition to offensive talent being added to the team, Simchuk added some new defensemen looking to impact the blue line this season. Charlie Pelnik is entering his second professional season after spending last season with the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs and the Peoria Rivermen. Pelnik is a massive body on the blue line, standing 6’5” and 190 lbs. He looks to add some physicality to the Bulls’ back end, along with some solid defensive play.
Birmingham also brought in a rookie defenseman out of Wilkes University, Taylor Brierley. Though he may not be the tallest defenseman, standing at 5-foot-10, his 174-pound frame makes him a tough body to move. He scored 25 points through 24 games in his senior season at Wilkes University. He has the potential to be a significant addition to the blueline this season and is a threat to jump into the rush and provide some offense as well.
Key Losses: The Bulls will be without fan favorite Russell Jordan this season. He only played 21 games last season with the Bulls between call-ups to the ECHL with the Florida Everblades and Iowa Heartlanders. When he was in Birmingham, his presence was felt. He scored 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) and accumulated 51 penalty minutes. His physical game and offensive talents will be missed as the Bulls head into the season.
In addition to Jordan not coming back, the veteran leadership of David Nippard will also be missed. Nippard has signed with the Macon Mayhem ahead of this season after coming off a career-high 23-point season (10 goals, 13 assists). Nippard is a huge locker room guy and is loved by fans and teammates alike. The energy he brings to the ice every night will be hard to replace on this Bulls team.
2022-23 SCHEDULE BREAKDOWN
The Bulls will have to wait until the second Saturday of the season before the hometown crowd can see them play. They start the season on the road against the Vermilion County Bobcats and then will travel up I-65 to face their in-state rival, the Huntsville Havoc. The bulk of the schedule this season is made up of games against the Pensacola Ice Flyers (12), Huntsville Havoc (8), Macon Mayhem (8), and the Evansville Thunderbolts (8). They will face every team in the SPHL at least once this season but will not visit Quad City, Peoria, or Fayetteville.
The schedule this season keeps the Bulls at home for four straight games twice this season October 29 -November 11, and again March 3-17. The longest road trip of the year takes place around the holidays when they will travel to Macon, Pensacola, and Evansville from December 22 through January 1. It’s also worth noting that the Bulls will be facing the Peoria Rivermen for the first time this season since March 7, 2020, when they fell to the Rivermen 3-2 at the Peoria Civic Center. The defending champs come to town on February 9 this season; nearly be three whole years since the two teams faced off.
TOP STORYLINES FOR 2022-23
The biggest storyline heading into this season is going to be scoring. Last season, the Bulls struggled to find the back of the net, scoring two goals or less in 36 percent of the games they played, including being shut out a total of eight times and scoring only one goal in twelve games. Much of the lack of scoring can be placed on special teams as well. The power play has to be better. It was one of the worst in the league and, at times, looked flat. The addition of offensive talent to this season’s roster is sure to change the scoring issue and is definitely something to keep an eye on this season.
Despite the numbers, the Bulls have one of the better goaltending duo’s in the league with Hayden Stewart and Austin Lotz. The problem last season wasn’t so much the goaltending as it was the play in front of them. It was not uncommon for the Birmingham netminders to see 30 to 40 shots a night. The defense in front of the team has to be better. Coach Simchuk made some significant changes to the blueline this offseason with only two returning D-men from the previous season’s roster. Can this new-look defense give the Bulls the consistency they need on the backend this season?
PREDICTION SURE TO GO RIGHT
The Bulls will make the playoffs this season, and Carson Rose will contend for the scoring title. I don’t know who they will be replacing, but with this revamped roster and solid veteran core, this season will surely be better than the past two. Rose is coming into his second season and is coming off an excellent rookie season. Look for this guy to light the lamp often.
PREDICTION SURE TO GO WRONG
Birmingham will win the William B. Coffey Trophy. Hey! Don’t laugh too much. I know this team has struggled the past two seasons, but this is a new-look Bulls team, and don’t be surprised if this prediction comes true…
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