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2023 President's Cup Playoffs

SPHL President’s Cup Semifinals Preview: #2 Birmingham Bulls vs. #3 Huntsville Havoc

#SPHL | #BattleForBama Engage. It’s @HuntsvilleHavoc and @BullsBirmingham going at it this weekend for a spot in the President’s Cup Finals. @FPHMayhem previews the series

SPHL President’s Cup Semifinals Preview: #2 Birmingham Bulls vs. #3 Huntsville Havoc

It’s not the Iron Bowl, but it’ll be hard to match the intensity this weekend in the Yellow Hammer State as the Battle For Bama takes center ice with a spot in the President’s Cup Finals at stake.

First, there’s Huntsville. Unlike the first round, the ice at the Von Braun Center, like the Death Star near the end of “Return Of The Jedi,” ‘fully operational’ in terms of being available. That means Huntsville’s fans will be chomping at the bit for Saturday’s second game that will follow Friday’s opener in the Bulls home arena. And with this being the final lap around the rink as head coach for Huntsville’s Glenn Detulleo, there will be no shortage of emotion from the side of the Havoc.

As for the Bulls, they are hardened from a first-round series in which their being the second seed mattered little to Fayetteville, as the Marksmen pushed them to the brink of elimination. In the end, veterans who have been in Birmingham in times of good and bad, Carson Rose, Mike Davis as well as others, willed Birmingham to the series win, moving them into a President’s Cup Semifinals clash with their in-state rivals. It’s also a rematch of the 2018-19 President’s Cup Finals, won by the Havoc.

Final Regular Season Records:

Birmingham: 37-16-2-2, 78 points

Huntsville: 34-19-2-1, 71 points

How They Got Here:

Seedings can be deceiving in a first-round series at times, and the Bulls’ first-round series against seventh-seeded Fayetteville lived up to that billing. In arguably the most competitive first-round series in the SPHL postseason so far, the Bulls dropped the series opener on the road in overtime despite having more shots on goal. Back home in Pelham, Rose and Davis turned the tide in the second period of the 4-2 win, forcing a third game. The Marksmen threw the kitchen sink at the Bulls and goalie Hayden Stewart, 26 shots through two periods, only to have Stewart shut them down and a pair of goals by Jake Pappalardo being the difference. Sometimes, a title run is about survival, and if Birmingham captures the President’s Cup Championship, Bulls fans can point to this series as a reason why.

Facing SPHL MVP and Knoxville, not to mention the Ice Bears being the top-scoring offensive group in the league, the Havoc was more than up to the challenge, proving that defense does indeed win championships in the postseason. In a 2-0 series sweep, the Ice Bears were held to a combined three goals. Both ends of the special teams spectrum blew open a 5-1 win in game one with a power play and then shorthanded goal by Austin Martinsen being part of a four-goal second period. Back in Knoxville for game two, Martinsen drew Huntsville even 2-2 in the third period of a physical game with the game-winner by Robbie Fisher, getting Huntsville the win despite being outshot.

Series Schedule (Home team in CAPS and all times local):

Friday, April 21 – Huntsville at BIRMINGHAM – 7:00 pm CT

Saturday, April 22 – Birmingham at HUNTSVILLE – 7:00 pm CT

*Sunday, April 23 – Huntsville at BIRMINGHAM, – 6:00 pm CT

* => If Necessary

Season Series Recap:

These two provided a bit of everything when facing one another this season, the Havoc winning the season series 4-3. That said, the final two matchups of the year went the way of the Bulls. In fact, the last matchup of the regular season, a 4-3 Bulls win, saw goals by two that have become two of Birmingham’s top scoring threats – Mike Gillespie and Jake Pappalardo. Both teams also showed that they can match the other in a low-scoring contest with three 2-1 wins early in the season, two going the way of the Havoc. The starting goalies in those games won’t have quite the same cast of characters. While Stewart is still in net for Birmingham, Havoc goalie Max Milosek was in the ECHL during that time.

How Birmingham Wins:

If not for Stewart’s play in net in the third game against Fayetteville, Birmingham’s season is likely over. Especially in a three-game series, a hot goalie can make all the difference in the postseason, and either Stewart or Austin Lotz needs to do that for the Bulls.

Avoiding the penalty box is also key. You saw that in game two of the first round where three minor penalties in the first period yielded a goal being allowed. Birmingham was able to rally past that previously, but that’s a tougher hill to climb against a seasoned postseason team like Huntsville.

How Huntsville Wins:

It all starts with Milosek. One attractive thing about these SPHL Playoffs this season is that all four teams are getting very good goalie play, and you would expect that from the Havoc netminder. He spent most of the year in the ECHL, but as you saw with him shutting down Knoxville in the first round, that rust is shaken off.

Huntsville also needs to pressure Birmingham like it did Knoxville. The game one 5-1 win? The Havoc overwhelmed the Ice Bears, doubling them up on shots on goal, 42-21. If The Havoc is to break through against the Bulls on the defensive end, it’ll have to be via relentless pressure.

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    Brad Harrison covers the Macon Mayhem for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHMayhem.

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