By James Hayes | Field Pass
For the second game in a row the Birmingham Bulls and Knoxville Ice Bears would face off. This time the Bulls welcomed the Ice Bears into the Pelham Civic Center after falling in overtime 2-1 last Saturday night in Knoxville. Birmingham and Knoxville currently sit at 4th and 5th place respectively in the standings. The matchup would once again feature goaltender Hayden Stewart of Birmingham against veteran net minder Peter Di Salvo for the Ice Bears. Both goaltenders treated us to a great showing last game out and were set up to do the same on Friday night.
The first period would get off the a very fast start as it would only take Knoxville 29 seconds to score the first goal of the game. The goal would come off Lincoln Griffin's stick after receiving a pass from Jacob Benson that would leave him wide open in the slot.
Knoxville would continue to set the tone for the night would continue to control the puck for much of the first period. With 5:45 remaining in the first period, Birmingham’s Chris Lijdsman would get called for holding and we would see our first power play of the night. The Bulls penalty kill unit would continue their solid play and kill off the penalty but, shortly after Lijdsman was released from the box the Ice Bears would once again find the back of the net after a turnover from Lijdsman. The puck would be intercepted by Knoxville’s Callum Fryer and instantly we had a 2 on 1 rush. Fryer made the pass to Johnny Curran who would skate unscathed to the front of the net and beat Stewart with an easy backhand goal. A few minutes later things would get a little chippy when a Knoxville player would shove Birmingham’s Kasey Kulczycki into goaltender Peter Di Salvo, both falling to the ice. Nick Master of Knoxville did not care to see Kulczycki on top of his goaltender and a scrum would ensue behind the net. When the dust settled the Master would end up getting charged with an extra minor penalty and Birmingham would get there first powerplay opportunity of the night. The Bulls would fail to convert on the power play and goes into the first intermission down by 2.
The second period would get of to a slower start than the first as both teams would exchange the puck back and forth for the first half of the period. With 9:58 to go in the second, Bull’s defenseman Anthony Florentino would lay a hit on Knoxville’s Stefan Brucato that caused Johnny Curran drop the gloves with Florentino for the nights only fight. The fight would end quickly and never really develop into much as both men would crash down to the ice. Brucato would get the last laugh at the 12:48 mark in the second period when he would find a rebound off teammate Dalton Skelly’s shot from the point and put the Ice Bears up 3-0 in the game.
Throughout the remainder of the second period the Bull’s would struggle to get anything going and with 1:05 to go in the period Chris Lijdsman would get called for interference and the Ice Bears would go on the powerplay to end the period. Knoxville would waste no time on this power play as Anthony McVeigh of Knoxville would get the puck and send it to a wide-open Jacob Benson across the crease. Benson would have no trouble sending the puck into a wide-open net as Stewart couldn’t come across quick enough. The 2nd period would end with the Ice Bears in a commanding 4-0 lead.
the Bulls would come out in the third period, looking to get something going on the ice. Just about 6 minutes into the final period the Bulls would get a powerplay chance when Knoxville’s Jacob Benson would get called for tripping. The Bulls would not be denied and put together what would be there best sequence of the night. Cole Stallard would get the Bull’s on the scorecard with a powerplay goal with just over 14 minutes remaining in the game. The goal would come off a pass to the front of the net by Lijdsman. The pass landed right on Stallard’s stick to tip the puck past Di Salvo and the game would now be 4-1.
Knoxville didn’t wait long to answer. Just over a minute later, Stefan Brucato would once again beat Hayden Stewart for the score. Brucato’s second goal of the night would be the final nail in the coffin and put the Ice Bears up 5-1. Birmingham couldn’t get much else going throughout the remainder of the period and would fall to Knoxville for the second time in as many games. Knoxville goaltender Peter Di Salvo would also find himself just two wins away from the SPHL’s all time win leader for goaltenders.
At the end of the night Assistant Coach Jerome Bechard stated what many of us were thinking;
“As far as the game, I think we were really disconnected.”
That the were, it just didn’t seem like the team was all on the same page and the scoreboard reflected exactly that. Assistant Coach Bechard also said, “It comes back to playing simple, simplify the game and play within yourselves.”
Birmingham will need to find a way to get back to the basics as they travel to Pensacola Saturday night to try and right the ship.