By James Hayes | Field Pass
Birmingham’s overtime struggles continued in the second matchup of the season against the Knoxville Ice Bears. The last game between the two teams ended with a goal by Lincoln Griffin with only 30 seconds remaining in the game. The Bulls would come into the game after getting a much-needed victory Thursday night against the Macon Mayhem and the Ice Bears were coming off a 5-2 victory over the Huntsville Havoc the night before. Hayden Stewart would get his sixth consecutive start for the Bulls after a stellar performance two nights before. On the other side of the ice Knoxville would start 8-year veteran Peter Di Salvo.
The first period wouldn’t really get going until about halfway through when both teams would exchange some scoring chances and both goaltenders would stand tall in the crease. With 5:01 to go in the first the Bulls would get the first goal of the night when Kasey Kulczycki would send the puck flying into the back of the net. The play started off the faceoff which Kulczycki would win and send back to Jared Legien who would send a shot to the net into traffic, the puck would deflect off Anthony Florentino’s stick and find its way back to Kulczycki who would in turn find an opening on the goaltenders five-hole and put the Bulls up 1-0. Knoxville would maintain offensive pressure for the better part of the last two minutes of the period and with 34 seconds to go they would get a powerplay chance thanks to a slashing call on Birmingham’s Cole Stallard. The Bulls would end up keeping the Ice Bears off the scoreboard and the game would go into the first intermission with the Bulls up 1-0.
The Bulls would easily kill off the final 1:26 of the penalty to start the second period and, the second period would show just how evenly matched these two teams are as both teams would trade chances and both teams defensive play would stand out. With just under eight minutes to go in the period Knoxville would get a big chance to tie up the game but Stewart would deny them the chance even with a huge collision in the net. Knoxville would turn the heat up on the Bulls in the final 6 minutes of the period and at the 14:59 mark of the 2nd Knoxville would get called for too many men on the ice and the Bulls would get there first powerplay chance of the night. Even on the penalty kill the Ice Bears would be aggressive offensively as they would actually get the best scoring chance on Birmingham’s powerplay although no goals would end up getting scored by either side during it. With 2:27 remaining in the period the Ice Bears would tie up the game when Sean Giles would send a pass off the boards behind the net to Johnny Curran and Curran would beat Stewart as he was trying get back across his crease. The period would end with the score all tied up at one goal apiece.
Knoxville would control play for the most part during the first 10 minutes of the third period. They would get a great chance when Curran would get the puck on a breakaway looking for his second goal of the night, only to be denied by Hayden Stewart. Birmingham struggled to keep the puck in the offensive zone and didn’t get a whole lot of chances in the period and would only end up registering 4 shots on goal in the frame. With 3:30 remaining in regulation Birmingham’s Taylor Pryce would get called for a check to the head and put the Ice Bears on the powerplay. The Birmingham penalty kill unit would indeed kill of the penalty that would feature some big saves from Hayden Stewart and some missed chances by the Ice Bears. Regulation time would end with the score still 1-1 and the teams would go into a five minute 3 on 3 sudden death overtime period.
Knoxville and Birmingham would trade the puck back and forth trying to setup something in extra time. 2:27 into overtime Dalton Skelly would send the game winning goal past Hayden Stewart when he would get a pass from Curran who was coming around the back of the net. Curran would find Skelly waiting in the slot and Skelly would elevate the puck just enough to find its way into the back of the net and Knoxville would find there way into the win column for the second time in as many nights.
After the game Coach Simchuk said, “Giving up one goal in regulation on the road is going to win us a lot of hockey games. We have to continue to build our defensive game and the offense will come.”
Coach knows best and on most nights this team would have been in the win column, but a determined Knoxville team found a way to prevent that. The Bulls finish the weekend 1-1 only allowing 2 goals in regulation. Hayden Stewart would stop 72 of 75 shots that he faced, and the penalty kill that is worst in the league went a perfect 6 for 6 on the kill. Plenty of good to take away from the weekend as Birmingham looks ahead to next Friday night when they will welcome the Ice Bears to the Pelham Civic Center for what looks to be another great matchup between the two.