By James Hayes | Field Pass
On a rare Wednesday night hockey game in the SPHL, we saw two teams battling for the 4th and final playoff spot. The Birmingham Bulls traveled down south to Pensacola to face the Ice Flyers for the 12th time of the season. Coming into the night the Ice Flyers hold a 4-point lead in the standings over the Bulls for the final playoff spot. The stage was set for another big matchup between the two teams as the season winds down.
The first period did not start out well for the Bulls as they came out flat. 3:37 into the game Pensacola would get on the board when Jake Wahlin got the puck off an offensive zone faceoff and shot the puck into traffic beating Hayden Stewart. 7 minutes into the first period Birmingham found themselves being outshot 9-0 and chasing the game.
At the 12:02 mark in the first period, Birmingham’s Alec Baer got called for holding and the Birmingham penalty kill would go to work. With only 9 seconds remaining in the powerplay the Ice Flyers found a way to increase the lead. The goal came when Alec Hagaman took a shot and the rebound found its way to Garrett Milan who wasted no time putting the puck into the back of the net. The Bulls would not find any relief when just 20 seconds later the Ice Flyers struck again. This time the goal came after the Ice Flyers got the puck cycling well in the offensive zone, Jordan Ernst got the puck at the blueline and put one past Stewart making it 3-0 Ice Flyers. As the period was winding down the Bulls would get a chance to close the gap when Eddie Matsushima got called for a hold. The powerplay did not start out well and Pensacola would take the puck into their offensive zone while shorthanded and find a way to score. Cam Bakker took a shot and the rebound came out to the right side where Jake Wahlin was skating in and sent the puck into a wide-open net. The period ended with the Bulls trailing 4-0 and looking to make some major adjustments in the locker room for the second period.
The second period didn’t go as poorly for the Bulls but the score would not get any better. After being outshot 21-4 in the first period, Birmingham was able to limit the Ice Flyers to 11 shots in the second period while they registered 6 of their own. 6:15 into the middle frame Birmingham did get another shot on the powerplay but could not get anything into the back of the net. Later on at the 11:03 mark in the period Kasey Kulczycki tried to spark something with his team when he dropped the gloves with Pensacola’s Michael Chen. The fight was spirited and both men would get a few punches in before they finally went down to the ice. In the final few minutes of play in the period, Birmingham would put some heavy pressure on the Ice Flyers but once again nothing would find its way to the back of the net. The period would end with the same score as the first period.
The Bulls came out of the locker room for the final period with the same intensity that they ended the 2nd period with and 27 seconds in Logan Nelson took the puck on a breakaway and sent a wrist shot into the back of the net making it a 4-1 game. Birmingham continued to push but the Ice Flyers would push right back with 7:24 remaining in the game when Darren McCormick sent a pass to the front of the net where an awaiting Zach Walker would then put the puck past Hayden Stewart. With under 5 minutes, the Bulls got a powerplay chance and under a minute later the Ice Flyers committed another penalty which put Birmingham on a 5 on 3 powerplay. The Bulls would convert when Logan Nelson passed from the point to Mike Davis in the right circle and Davis took the shot to beat Kupsky making it a 5-2 game. That would be it though and the comeback would fall short for Birmingham as the final horn would sound with Pensacola defeating Birmingham 5-2.
The loss in Pensacola puts Birmingham behind Pensacola by 6 points for the final playoff spot and only 6 games remaining on the season. The Bulls are down but not out of the playoffs just yet and will head to Huntsville on Friday night looking to start putting together some wins down the home stretch of the season.