By James Hayes | Field Pass
After a long road trip that has kept the Birmingham Bulls away from home since March 19th, they finally returned home to play at the Pelham Civic Complex. The Thursday night matchup was another chapter in the Battle for Bama with the Huntsville Havoc. Huntsville is leading the season series 5-3-0 and this game is one of three remaining on the season between the two clubs. Both teams find themselves battling for the final playoff spot with Huntsville currently sitting a comfortable 7 points ahead of the Bulls in the standings. After last week's games with both Macon and Knoxville clinching playoff berths, only two spots remain between the final 3 teams in the standings (Pensacola, Huntsville, Birmingham). Starters in net for the night would be Max Milosek for the Havoc and fresh off a stint with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters, Hayden Stewart returns in net for the Bulls.
The first period began and both teams were looking to find their skating legs. There was not a lot of action to report in the period as chances exchanged with very few whistles halting play. There was only one penalty called when Havoc player Alex Berardinelli received a minor for high-sticking at the 11:38 mark in the period. Birmingham would not score on the powerplay as the first period proved to be of strong defenses. When the period finally came to an end the registered shots on goal between both teams was only 11 with the Havoc holding a slight edge at 6-5.
The second period saw a lot more of the same style of play from both teams as in the first. Huntsville came out with the slight edge and it paid off 4:43 into the period. Hayden Stewart made a great save on a breakaway chance and the puck went into the right corner, it found its way back to Havoc player Rob Darrar who took the opportunity and sent the puck past Stewart low stick side making it a 1-0 game. After the goal, the Bulls came out playing with a purpose and controlled much of the next 5 minutes of play. They saw multiple chances to tie the game but Havoc goaltender, Max Milosek would deny everything that came his way. Birmingham would get two powerplay chances in the period, one of which came with only 54.7 seconds remaining in the period. The Havoc penalty kill unit and Milosek would find a way to keep the surging Bulls out of the net and the period ended with Huntsville leading 1-0.
Birmingham kicked off the third period looking to not just tie up the game but get the win and the ever-important 2 points in the standings. The Bulls showed determination and killed off an early penalty against Kulczycki for roughing. At the 9:09 mark Carson Vance of the Havoc turned the puck over to Logan Nelson and Nelson took full advantage of the chance and sent the puck flying past Milosek to tie the game up at 1-1. With under 5 minutes remaining in the game, Birmingham’s Chris Lijdsman was called for tripping and sent the Bulls on the penalty kill for the second time on the night. This time the Havoc would capitalize when Stewart would face a barrage of shots with heavy traffic in front. Shane Bednard of the Havoc located the puck and sent it up and over the pad of Stewart once again giving the Havoc the lead. Just seconds after the Havoc goal the Bulls would get a powerplay chance of their own when Havoc player Zach Yoder got called for a high stick.
The Bulls wasted no time at all on the power play when Mike Davis centered a pass to Tanner Froese for a wrist shot into the back of the net to tie the game 2-2. The horn would sound and it was decided that 3 periods of hockey would not be enough for this game and the teams headed into overtime.
The first two minutes of the overtime period started with a surge by the Havoc, but Stewart would turn away all the chances. Birmingham would also get their fair share of chances but Max Milosek was standing tall in his net as well. Late in the overtime period during a delayed penalty, Huntsville would bring on the extra attacker and capitalize when Nolan Kaiser sent a slapshot flying past Stewart giving the Havoc the victory.
After the dust settled Coach Simchuk said, “We still believe we can get in the playoffs here. We would have liked to have gotten two points tonight, didn’t happen so we just have to go back to work Saturday.”
Saturday the Bulls will welcome in the Knoxville Ice Bears and look to continue their point streak as the season winds down and the battle for that final playoff spot continues.