By James Hayes | Field Pass
This past Friday the Birmingham Bulls released the highly anticipated protected player list for the upcoming season. The protected player list is the list that each team in the SPHL submits to the league that has 13 players from the previous season's roster on it. The Bulls will retain the rights to each of the players on the list, but this does not guarantee that the player will play for them the next season. The rights can be traded away and if a player goes to play in a different league the rights remain with the SPHL team that originally placed the player on their protected list.
Starting with goaltenders, the Bulls protected both Austin Lotz and Hayden Stewart. Lotz will be coming back for a third season. This past season Lotz played 13 games went 2-7-2 with a 4.36 GAA. Lotz missed a large chunk of the season due to a groin injury as well as sitting out for a 8-game suspension early in the season. Stewart played in 19 games and posted a record 7-9-3 with a 3.27 GAA. Due to Lotz missing time, Stewart was the starting goaltender for much of the season and the organization will surely be happy to have both of these guys back for the 21-22 season.
The Bulls protected 7 forwards consisting of Tyler Penner, Kasey Kulczycki, Logan Nelson, Cole Stallard, Cameron Strong, Mike Davis, & C.J. Hayes. Penner is coming off a solid rookie season that featured him posting 12 points (5g, 7a). Kulczycki will be back for his 4th season in Birmingham and it's safe to say Bulls fans will be delighted to hear this. KCK finished off the 20-21 season with 11 points (5g, 6a). He also led the league in penalty minutes with 114. Captain Logan Nelson who leads the league in scoring with 49 points (13g, 36a) will also be back next season but it will be no surprise if the ECHL doesn’t come calling and Nelson plays a 7th season in the coast. Next on the list is another fan favorite and back for his 3rd season will be Cole Stallard. Stallard played in 29 games this past season and posted 17 points (10g, 7a). Despite missing games due to injury Stallard was still able to finish the season as a top 5 scorer on the team.
Rookie Cameron Strong is next on the list and the team will definitely welcome the young forward’s speed and abilities back to Birmingham for the 21-22 season. Strong finished the season with 13 points (7g, 6a) playing in 29 games. Next up is veteran forward and another fan favorite in Mike Davis. Davis will be back for his 5th season with the Bulls, which if you’re keeping track is exactly how many seasons the Bulls have been around in the SPHL. Davis finished the 20-21 season with 21 points (13g, 8a) his 13 goals were good enough to place him in a tie with Logan Nelson for most goals scored on the Bulls. The final forward to make the list is C.J. Hayes. Hayes has played in parts of the past 3 SPHL seasons and like Strong will be welcomed back to Birmingham for his speed and abilities in 21-22. Hayes put up 8 points (5g, 3a) in 21 games with the Bulls this past season.
The Bulls placed 4 defensemen on the 21-22 player protected list. First up is Jarod Hilderman, coming off his rookie season and has that championship pedigree that the Bulls are looking for with 2 NCAA National Championships with the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Hilderman put up 6 points (6a) in 41 contests with Birmingham this past year. Kyle McKenzie is next on the list, McKenzie who has spent the previous 3 seasons before 20-21 playing in the ECHL will come back for a second season with the Bulls after playing solid minutes for the Bulls and putting up 3 points (3a). The man who led all Birmingham defensemen in scoring with 12 points (2g, 10a) Chris Lijdsman is next on the list. Lijdsman will be back for his 5th professional season and second season with the Bulls. The last man on the protected players list is the man with the best mustache in the SPHL, Mackenzie Dwyer. In his rookie season, Dwyer finished with 6 points (6a) and found himself playing some very important minutes for the Bulls.
After a very up and down 20-21 season you can expect all of these men to come into next season hungry and looking for revenge. Next up will be an expansion draft for the newly found Vermillion County Bobcats and player signings for Birmingham and the rest of the league.