By James Hayes | Field Pass
Birmingham welcomed back the Knoxville Ice Bears into the Pelham Civic Center on Thursday night for the 5th meeting of the season between the two teams. The Bulls have yet to beat the Ice Bears on the season with the last time Knoxville was in this building topping the Bulls 4-1.
Knoxville has been riding the red-hot play of former Bulls goaltender, Austyn Roudebush who has been named the SPHL Warrior player of the week for three straight weeks, He is also the first player in the league to ever accomplish this feat. Roudebush is 8-0 since signing with the Ice Bears on February 25th. He has an outstanding 1.07 goals against average and 0.961 save percentage.
The story in net for the Bulls is a totally different one. The Bulls lost starting goaltender Austin Lotz to a groin injury last Sunday night against Huntsville. Backup goaltender Hayden Stewart came in and played a magnificent game by stopping 33/34 shots and helping the team secure its first win in quite some time. It wouldn’t stop there. Just one day before this game, Hayden Stewart got the call to the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. Great news for Stewart, but it left Birmingham with new net minders. Of the two, Zach Quinn got the call in between the pipes on Thursday night. This would be Quinn’s second game in the SPHL, with the prior game being in Peoria last season.
The Bulls came out strong in the first period and put some early pressure on Knoxville. Roudebush just did Roudebush things though and just turned everything away. 3:33 into the period, Knoxville’s Nick Master sent a pass to Jacob Benson who was sitting in the high slot. Benson took the slap shot and sent the puck top shelf, right past Zach Quinn making it an early 1-0 lead for the Ice Bears.
Birmingham went right back on the attack and with the exception of the lone goal, they would outplay Knoxville in the first period. Birmingham outshot Knoxville 13-7 in the period, but the story stayed the same for the Ice Bears with Roudebush standing in net, doing his best impersonation of a brick wall. A penalty for a high stick by Jared Hilderman with just 31 seconds remaining put the penalty kill unit to work for the first time on the night as the bulls get out of the first period only being down one goal.
The Bulls would go on to successfully kill off the remainder of the penalty against Hilderman to start the 2nd period. Knoxville had the upper hand for the first few minutes of the period but shortly thereafter, Birmingham would take over. The Bulls had a stretch of 2 minutes that they controlled the puck in the offensive zone. The play didn’t generate a lot of quality scoring chances and the few shots that made it through to Roudebush did not make it past him.
Zach Quinn made a few huge saves with 4 minutes remaining in the second when Knoxville broke into the zone on a 2 on 1 break. Quinn denied the initial shot and the rebounds to keep the game close. With under a minute thirty left in the period, Bulls' defensemen, Chris Lijdsman got caught hooking and was sent to the penalty box for 2 minutes. During the power play, Mackenzie Dwyer attempted to get the puck out of the defensive zone and sent it over the glass resulting in a delay of game penalty. Knoxville would get a 5 on 3 powerplay chance and did not let it go to waste. At the 19:30 mark of the period Johnny Curran skated across the high slot, picked his spot and scored putting the Ice Bears up 2-0 going into the locker room.
Once again Birmingham would have to kill off a penalty to start the period and once again, they did just that. After the penalty kill Knoxville did everything in their power to slow play down and just defend the lead. While doing that, they also controlled the play for much of the period and tested Quinn as often as they could. The Bulls never really got a good clean look at the net again until late in the final period of play.
With 1:38 remaining in the game Coach Simchuk pulled the goalie with hopes that an extra skater may help solve the goal scoring drought. With 44.1 remaining, Knoxville would gain control of the puck and Johnny Curran would send the puck into the empty net for his second goal of the night. At the end of the night, the Ice Bear goaltender got his 3rd shutout of the year with a very defensively sound team in front of him. With the 3-0 loss, the Bulls fell to 0-5 against the Ice Bears on the season and the Bulls fall to 8-13-4 on the season.
Good news for the Bulls is that they will have the chance to shake this one off when they face the Pensacola Ice Flyers on Friday night at home. The two teams have met 8 times this season and so far every game has been very eventful and exciting.