By James Hayes | Field Pass
For the 10th time this season the Birmingham Bulls traveled up I-65 to face off against in-state rival, the Huntsville Havoc. This Friday night matchup is a very big one for both teams, but a victory in this game would clinch a playoff spot for the Havoc meaning only one spot remains. Birmingham needed a victory in this game as they chase the final playoff spot currently being held by the Pensacola Ice Flyers 6 points ahead of the Bulls.
The Bulls came out in the first period on a roll. They controlled the play for much of the first period and halfway through the first they were outshooting the Havoc 10-2. Birmingham was given an early powerplay just 2:26 into the game when Derek Perl was called for holding. Despite being on the man advantage the Bulls were not able to capitalize. Throughout the entire first period, the best Havoc player on the Ice was the goaltender Max Milosek who would continue to turn away shot after shot. With 6:17 remaining in the period Huntsville’s Alex Berardinelli found himself behind the Bulls defense and skating in on Hayden Stewart. Berardinelli used a slick move around Stewart and sent a backhand shot into the back of the net. After the goal, the Bulls went right back on the offensive and continued to control the play for the remainder of the period. Despite the offensive effort and outshooting the Havoc 14-6 in the first period Birmingham found themselves heading to the locker room down 1-0.
Huntsville came out of the locker room with some fire to start the second period and had a chance to build on their lead when Jarod Hilderman of the Bulls was sent to the penalty box for holding. Hayden Stewart however wanted to show his appreciation for the effort by his teammates and turned everything away during the powerplay. The Havoc continued to pressure for the first 5 minutes of play. The Bulls found some momentum just before the halfway point in the period when Logan Nelson and Jacob Smith skated into the offensive zone on a 2 on 1. Nelson sent the puck to Smith and Smith took the shot beating Milosek and tying the game up at one. 2 minutes later the hard-charging Bulls did it again, this time Bulls defenseman Mackenzie Dwyer sent a pass to the front of the net where Anthony Collins was waiting. Collins redirected the puck and sent it past Milosek short side giving the Bulls the 2-1 lead just past the halfway point of the game. Birmingham continued to bring heavy pressure in the offensive zone and on the rare occasion that the Havoc would get the puck Stewart did his part and impersonated a brick wall not letting anything by him. With 4:26 remaining in the period Birmingham found themselves with another 2 on 1 break. This time Kyle McKenzie skated in on the right-wing and opted to take the shot that was perfectly placed and beat Milosek on the glove side making it a 3-1 game late in the second. 3 unanswered was just not going to cut it for the Bulls in this period and with just 2:28 to go Logan Nelson dropped a pass back to Jacob Smith who was skating into the high slot. Smith sent a shot at the net and once again Milosek was beat on the glove side. The period came to an end with the Bulls leading 4-1 and headed to the locker room with their heads held high before the final period.
Birmingham came into the 3rd period with the same playoff intensity they showed in the first two periods. 4:09 into the 3rd Jacob Smith sent a pass across the ice to a streaking Anthony Collins. Collins sent a wrist shot flying high past Milosek and the Bulls took a commanding 5-1 lead. Just over a minute later Cameron Strong sent a pass back to Chris Lijdsman in the slot, Lijdsman sent a shot zinging past Milosek and the Bulls would score their sixth unanswered goal on the night with under 15 minutes remaining. Huntsville would show some life and take some chances trying to catch back up but Hayden Stewart turned away all 11 shots he saw in the final period. When the final horn sounded the Birmingham Bulls would take the two points with a dominating performance in Huntsville.
Birmingham came into the night knowing that they need to string together some wins if they don’t want to go home first this year and they answered the bell in a big way. Pensacola lost in Macon on Friday night, so Birmingham now is back within 4 points in the standings with a chance to close the gap even more on Saturday night in Knoxville.