By James Hayes | Field Pass
For the second game in a row the Birmingham Bulls would face off against the Pensacola Ice Flyers. The Bulls won the matchup by a score of 4-3 in Pensacola. The season series coming into the Thursday night matchup would be deadlocked at 3-3 featuring two overtime games with one of which went into a shootout.
The Bulls would be looking to start a win streak while the Ice Flyers would be trying to stop a 4-game skid. This game would also be the first game back for Birmingham goaltender Austin Lotz after a 8 game suspension for his actions on the ice against Pensacola on January 29th. Lotz would stare across the ice at Pensacola goaltender Chase Perry ,who would be looking to rebound after giving up 6 goals against Huntsville 4 days prior.
Birmingham would come out with a very strong first five minutes in the opening period, controlling the play and having their way with Pensacola on both sides of the ice. Austin Lotz looked sharp despite missing 8 games by making some key saves early on.
The first period moved very quickly and penalty free with neither team being able to find the back of the net. The Bulls meanwhile would put together one of there better starts to a game all season as they went to the locker room tied 0-0 at the end of the first period.
The second period would start out at the same pace as the first period. This round however would have the two teams more evenly matched as both sides would exchange chances and make plays. Right around the halfway point in the period, the scoreless tie would finally be broken when Pensacola’s Taylor Pryce would score after getting a pass in the slot from teammate Jake Wahlin. This would be Pryce’s second goal against his former team since getting traded late last week. After the goal Pensacola would turn up the heat and control the play for the better part of five minutes.
With 4:43 remaining in the second period we would see our first penalty of the game when Pensacola’s Frederic Letourneau would get called for a high stick. The Bull’s would go to work on the powerplay and find a way to tie up the game when Kasey Kulczycki would gain control of the puck after a battle against the boards. Kulczycki would skate right in front of the crease and opt out of shooting when he sees teammate Jared Legien with some space. Legien connects and would send the puck home to make it a 1-1 game. The 2nd period would end with Birmingham out-shooting Pensacola 21-16 and a tie score.
Three minutes into the 3rd, the Ice Flyers would get their first chance at the powerplay when Bull Chris Lijdsman would get called for tripping. The Birmingham penalty kill would stand their ground and the game would stay tied at one goal a piece. The Ice Flyers would control play for the start of the third period, but Austin Lotz would deny them every chance they took.
Things would get interesting for just a quick second at the 8:39 mark in the period when Kasey Kulczycki and Darren McCormick would get into it after the whistle was blown. Nothing would come of it as the refs would step in and send both players to the box for 2 minutes. That would mean 4 on 4 hockey and more open ice for the next two minutes of play. Both sides would get a few chances but nothing that would change the score during the 4 on 4 play.
With just 1:43 remaining in the game Jacob Smith would score his first goal as a Birmingham Bull when he would get a rebound off of a Logan Nelson shot. The rebound would come right to Smith and he would shoot the puck into a wide-open net and the Bull’s would find themselves up 2-1 with just over a minute and a half remaining.
It didn’t take Pensacola long to respond as they would tie the game up just 26 seconds later when they would pull their goalie and skate into the offensive zone. McCormick would send a centering pass to Brennan Blaszczack and fire shoot the puck passed Austin Lotz to tie up the game with 1:17 remaining in regulation. For the third time this season, the two teams would need extra time to decide a winner.
Birmingham would get some solid scoring chances in the overtime period but the one scoring chance that would matter came from Pensacola. Michael Chen would get credit for the game winner, as the puck goes in off Bull’s winger Cameron Strong’s stick as he attemptted to knock the puck away after falling down while coming across the front of the crease. Nonetheless Pensacola would get credit for the goal, and win the game 3-2 in overtime.
After the game Coach Simchuk would say,
“Those are the games that hopefully don’t come back and bite us.”
He would be referring to the fact that the standings are even closer than ever this season due to many teams opting out of play because of COVID-19 restrictions. Due to this, ever point counts even more during the season.
Birmingham will get a chance to move up in the standings and gain those ever important 2 points when they travel up the road to Huntsville for the 6th meeting between the two Alabama teams this season on Saturday night.