Pelham, Ala. – After a hot start on opening weekend for the Bulls, things cooled off a little bit. This past weekend they faced their in-state rival, the Huntsville Havoc, on Friday night. They dropped that matchup by a score of 2-1, but it was not for lack of trying. Saturday night, they finally hosted their home opener and welcomed the Knoxville Ice Bears into town. Again, despite a tremendous effort, Birmingham fell short of victory. The final score against the Ice Bears was 4-1.
Rocket City Showdown
Getting off to slow starts seems to be a recurring theme in Birmingham for the past few years. Friday night in Huntsville proved to be no different. Two minutes into the opening period, Austin Martinsen beat Hayden Stewart to give the Havoc an early lead. The Bulls battled back all period, but Nick Latinovich was up to the challenge in net for Huntsville. Late in the period Stefan Brucato of the Birmingham Bulls took a penalty that proved costly for the team.
Brucato was sent to the penalty box for a boarding call with two and a half minutes remaining in the first. Huntsville’s powerplay that went 0-6 during opening weekend finally found that first powerplay goal of the season. Credit goes to long-time Havoc player Rob Darrar. Birmingham headed into the locker room after one looking to regroup.
The second period started a lot better for Birmingham. The team came out firing on all cylinders, and they were rewarded 3:50 into the period. Jordan Martin figured out the puzzle that was Latinovich, and the lead was cut in half. The Bulls continued to keep the pressure on the Havoc throughout the period, outshooting them 13-7. However, even with a powerplay opportunity at the midway point of the game, the Bulls could not find a way to tie the game up.
Huntsville began to lock things down in the final frame. The third period was all about the battle of the goaltenders. Both Stewart and Latinovich were denying everything that came towards them. The Bulls again outshot the Havoc 17-7 in the final period, but Latinovich would go on to win this goaltending duel.
Saturday night was the long-awaited home opener for the Bulls as they welcomed the Knoxville Ice Bears into the Pelham Civic Center. Despite a large crowd cheering the home team on at the opening faceoff, the team again found themselves behind early. 1:59 in, Andrew Bellant beat Austin Lotz, and just like that, Knoxville was rolling. The penalties really started piling up midway through the period, and the Bulls received not one but two 5-on-3 powerplays. Knoxville’s penalty kill unit, backed with Kristian Stead, put on a penalty kill clinic and kept the Bulls off the board, killing off all 10 minutes of the Bull’s powerplay time.
Déjà vu is the best way to describe the second period’s opening. Much like the night before, the Bulls got on the board quickly. Captain Mike Davis snuck one past Stead on a wild net-crashing play. Things were all knotted up at one, and the Bulls were hungry. Birmingham dominated the time of possession and fired shot after shot at Stead. The Knoxville netminder stood tall and was not going to let another one past him. Late in the period, Mackenzie Dwyer turned the puck over in the neutral zone to Bellant. Bellant made the Bulls pay and fired a shot home giving the Ice Bears back the lead.
Heavily outshooting the Ice Bears 37-16 entering the third period, the feeling was that the Bulls were going to tie this one back up. However, Stead had other plans. The Bulls dominated the play early on, but the cement wall in Knoxville’s net showed no signs of cracking. Just past the midway point, Ice Bear Captain Justin MacDonald beat Lotz for his third of the year, and the arena fell silent. However, the Bulls brushed it off and went back to work. Birmingham fired shot after shot at Stead and even got another powerplay chance late but could not find the back of the net. Bellant eventually sealed the deal by getting a hat trick on an empty net goal with under a minute remaining. The Bulls outshot the Ice Bears 61-21 but still came up short and dropped their second straight game.
- The Bull’s special teams need some work. Going 0-10 on the weekend is a big reason they couldn’t come out of the weekend with any points. The penalty kill is playing a lot better, but they gave up a very costly goal on Friday night in Huntsville.
- The offense on this team has the potential to be deadly in the SPHL this season. They outshot their opponent’s 99-44 over the weekend. If the team can dial in these shots and turn them into goals, look out!
- Even though the Bulls were outscored 6-2 on the weekend, the goaltending and the defense is leaps and bounds ahead of what we have seen from this team over the past two seasons. There is no need to hit the panic button after a 2-2 start. This team will get better as the season moves along.
Birmingham only has one game on the schedule this week, and it’s a home game against the Huntsville Havoc. The Havoc are currently 3-1 this season and will be coming off their first loss of the season to the Pensacola Ice Flyers this past Saturday night.
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