By Ronald Hagood, Jr | The Sin Bin
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (12/27/20)- The Birmingham Bulls dropped their first game of the shortened 2020-21 season 4-3 Saturday night to the Pensacola Ice Flyers. Before an enthusiastic but masked up crowd of 2,562, the Bulls started on fire. Taylor Pryce, one of thirteen new faces in the Birmingham line up this season, started the scoring for the Bulls. Pryce scored on a slap shot thanks to a well-placed pass from Tanner Froese just 1:51 into the game. Brendan Soucie was credited with the second assist. Minutes later, another newcomer, Alec Baer, tipped in a Chris Lijdsman shot to expand Birmingham's lead to 2-0 just 7:34 into the contest. Seventy seconds later, Froese got in on the scoring action, receiving a pass from Soucie between the circles to beat Jake Kupsky stick side, giving the Bulls a 3-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game. Alec Hagaman put the Ice Flyers on the board late in the first period, cutting the Birmingham lead to 3-1 going to the locker room. Unfortunately for the rowdy fans in Birmingham, the first period's fast start would not carry over into the second or third. The second period saw Birmingham’s Austin Lotz and Pensacola’s Kupsky save after save, holding the opposing team scoreless. That would change with 1:21 remaining in the middle period, when Jordan Ernst beat Lotz for a goal on an assist from Darren McCormick, cutting it to a one goal game after two periods of play.
In the third period, the grind of a quick training camp earlier in the week appeared to take the legs away from both teams, but not before the Ice Flyers tied the game at 3-3. Hagaman, making his Pensacola debut after spending most of his career with the Peoria Rivermen, picked up his second goal of the evening, this one a power-play goal 2:35 into the period. Garrett Milan and Nick Neville assisted on the goal. Despite a combined 24 shots between the two teams in the third period, the Hagaman lamplighter would be the only one as the game would head to overtime.
McCormick capped the Ice Flyers' comeback midway through the 3-on-3 overtime period, scoring off a pass from Matt Ustaski 2:20 into the extra frame.
The Ice Flyers win continues the one-sidedness of this rivalry between Birmingham and Pensacola. Dating back to last season, Pensacola has beaten the Bulls in seven of the last nine meetings.
Despite the loss, new Birmingham head coach Craig Simchuk was glad to be back at the Pelham Civic Center. The rookie head coach, who came to Birmingham when the Bulls joined the SPHL, was announced as Birmingham’s second head coach on November 24 after the surprise stepping down of Jamey Hicks. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,” said Simchuk when asked about this being his first game in charge. When asked about the quick start and eventual loss, “Can’t blame the start, loved it. Guys came out flying, had a lot of energy and legs," Simchuk said. "I just told them, you can’t take any days off any minutes, any period. The teams in this league are gonna be very good. They’re gonna capitalize and come back if you give them the opportunity.”
Birmingham will get a shot to even the season series with their next game on Wednesday night. The Bulls will travel down to the Sunshine State for a rematch with the Ice Flyers at the Pensacola Bay Center. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 PM.
Ronald Hagood, Jr. covers the Birmingham Bulls for The Sin Bin. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @SinBinBulls.