By James Hayes | Field Pass
Birmingham would welcome the Knoxville Ice Bears to town on Thursday night for the 4th matchup between the two teams. Knoxville has had the Bulls number this year as they have won all 3 games so far on the season. Birmingham’s last game was a 5-2 loss to Huntsville and Knoxville would come into town riding a 2-game winning streak.
During that winning streak the Ice Bears rode the hot hand of last weeks SPHL player of the week Austyn Roudebush. Roudebush spent a large part of the season with the Birmingham Bulls but his ice time was limited to just a partial game in a 7-0 loss to the Havoc early this season. Birmingham would start Austin Lotz who is still looking for his first win since coming back from a 10-game suspension.
The first period got going and the Bulls would come out firing on all cylinders. They would get some great chances and register 3 shots on goal in the first two and a half minutes. Knoxville would keep pace and bring some fire of their own and at 3:02 into the opening period, they would get the game's first goal.
Jacob Benson would skate around the back of the net, coming around the other side he would send a centering pass to teammate Nick Master. Master would tip the puck in passed Austin Lotz. After the opening goal things would slow down a bit and the officials would start putting their whistles to work.
Birmingham would get a powerplay opportunity at the 7:35 mark when Knoxville’s Andrew Mclean would get called for a trip. The Bull’s would struggle to get anything going and fail to convert on the powerplay. A short while later, the Ice Bears would get their first chance on the powerplay when Birmingham’s Chantz Petruic would get called for slashing. Knoxville would waste no time and thirty seconds into the powerplay the score would be 2-0 in favor of the Ice Bears. The goal would come when Andrew Mclean would send a slapshot at the net, the puck would get redirected off Anthony McVeigh’s stick and the puck would sail passed Lotz.
With about 5 minutes remaining in the period, Birmingham would get a little bit more physical with their play and the result would be another powerplay chance when Stefan Brucato would get called for roughing with 4:24 to go in the period. The powerplay would not last long though as the Bulls' Chris Lijdsman would get called for holding just over a minute later. The trend of penalties would continue as Knoxville would again get called for another penalty ending their chance with the man advantage when Kenton Helgesen got caught tripping. Just when you though that was it for penalties Knoxville’s Lincoln Griffin would get a scoring chance on Austin Lotz and run all over the goaltender which would result in a charging penalty that would lead to a short 4 on 3 powerplay for the Bulls and then a 5 on 3 chance. Knoxville would stand their ground and keep the Bulls out of the net though and the Bulls would go into the locker room down 2-0.
The second period would start with a bang. 51 seconds in, Birmingham’s Jarod Hilderman would not take kindly to a hit on him by Knoxville’s Colton Heffley and the two would drop the gloves. Both men would exchange some heavy hits and the refs would let the fight go on for longer than most due to both men staying on their feet and showing some solid stamina. Eventually the officials would have to step in and both men would go to the penalty box for five minutes.
Birmingham would struggle to get any real offense going in the period and would actually go just over 30 minutes without a shot on goal in the game, going back to the first period. The Ice Bears on the other hand, would keep Austin Lotz busy but, Lotz would deny them every time. The period would end with the same score as the Ice Bears leading 2-0 and the Bulls being outshot 23-9.
The third period of play would have a slow start to it. Knoxville would play shutdown defense and keep the Bulls from doing much. Finally, just after the halfway mark of the period, the Bulls would get one past Roudebush. Mike Davis and Kasey Kulczycki would skate in on a two on one,. Davis would take the shot and the rebound would go to Kulczycki, who would gather it up and send the puck into the back of the net.
Birmingham wouldn’t give themselves a lot of time to build on the momentum from the goal when Jacob Smith would get called for a high stick a few minutes later and send Knoxville onto the powerplay. Much like the sequence in the first period we would see a barrage of penalties over the next few minutes and the end result would be a short 5 on 3 powerplay for the Bulls. Birmingham would once again fail to convert on the powerplay, and the score would stay 2-1.
With 2:05 remaining in the game, Coach Simchuk would call a timeout to discuss how to get the tying goal. After the timeout Lotz would go to the bench for the extra attacker. With 1:11 remaining, Knoxville’s Jacob Benson would send the puck down the ice into the empty net to put the Ice Bears back up by two goals. The Bull’s weren’t about to give up though and the next chance they got Lotz would go back to the bench for the extra attacker but once again the plan would backfire when Knoxville’s Brady Fleurent would score on the empty net. The game would end with Knoxville winning 4-1 and leading the season series 4-0.
After the game Coach Simchuk said, “I still think that we are trying to find our game.”
The coach also mentioned how at times the forwards are on one page and the defense is on another. They will have one day to try and get things aligned before Saturday when they welcome the Pensacola Ice Flyers into the Pelham Civic Complex for what is sure to be another exciting battle between the two teams this season.