By James Hayes | Field Pass
Sometimes in professional ice hockey, you see a team leave it all on the ice and still end up with the short end of the stick. Birmingham came out strong early on but fell victim to an early goal-against once again this season. Austin Lotz was in the Birmingham net for the first time since coming off the IR with a groin injury. Stefan Brucato of the Ice Bears deflected a Callum Fryer shot past Lotz just 3:14 into the game. At the 13:50 mark in the period the Bulls and Bulls fans all thought Logan Nelson tied the game up on what looked to be a goal but the official call on ice after some discussion was no goal. Birmingham also found themselves with two breakaway chances in the period to tie up the game, but Austyn Roudebush showed why he was the 3-time SPHL player of the week this season and turned all 10 shots away in the first period.
Knoxville came out fast to start the second period but Lotz and the Bulls regained momentum as they continued to try to tie up the game. Birmingham played a very physical second period with defenseman Malcolm Hayes leading the charge on some solid hits. Just under 5 minutes into the second the Bulls found themselves with 1:09 of 5 on 3 powerplay time. Knoxville called a timeout just before the 5 on 3 began to put together a plan to stop the Bulls. Whatever was said on the Knoxville bench worked because the Ice Bears killed off both the 5 on 3 and the 5 on 4 powerplays leaving the Bulls scoreless. With under 8 minutes to go in the period, the Ice Bears found their second wind and started pressing hard in the Birmingham defensive zone. With 6:59 remaining in the period, Matthieu Roy put a rebound in the back of the net off a Brett Beauvais shot and suddenly it was 2-0 Ice Bears. Late in the period, Kasey Kulczycki took an interference penalty that put the Ice Bears on the powerplay. With just 4 seconds remaining in the second period, Andrew Mclean found the bouncing puck in the crease and scored a powerplay goal putting the Ice Bears up 3-0 heading into the 3rd period.
The final period started with a bang for the Bulls and it looked that maybe they would be able to make a comeback. 2:02 into the final frame, JM Piotrowski collected a rebound off a Mackenzie Dwyer point-shot and put it in the back of the net beating the goalie top shelf. With the game now 3-1 Birmingham regained some of that momentum they lost late in the second period. 3:10 into the period Logan Nelson was called for charging and the Bulls penalty kill unit went to work. The penalty kill was successful and shortly after the teams started skating at full strength, the Ice Bears were caught with too many men on the ice. This was the point in the game that it really started to turn. Lincoln Griffin took the puck in the neutral zone and skated all the way down into his offensive zone on a breakaway. Griffin deked around Lotz and scored a short-handed goal putting the Ice Bears up 4-1 with 14:20 remaining in the game. Two minutes and six seconds later Kenton Helgesen put the final nail in the coffin when he took a slapshot from the top of the left-wing circle and beat Lotz for the Ice Bears 5th goal of the game.
Despite being down by 4 goals late in the game the Bulls never gave up and continued to push back all the way to the final horn. The loss would eliminate the Bulls from playoff contention with 3 games remaining on the season. Next up for the Bulls will be at home on Saturday night against the regular-season champion Macon Mayhem.