Birmingham Bulls off to 3-0 start, 1 point behind first place in SPHL

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

After last year’s unbelievable run down the stretch that saw the Birmingham Bulls gain confidence on a long winning streak, it was expected fans would see more of that team in 2018 with the Bulls heading into their second season in the SPHL, and so far, they haven’t disappointed.

Through three games in the first week of the season, the Bulls are sitting at 3-0 with three wins against the Huntsville Havoc, Pensacola Ice Flyers and Evansville Thunderbolts, and are just one point behind the 3-0-1 Macon Mayhem in the SPHL standings.

A big reason for that is the help of Geoff Crisfield and Jacob Barber, who both sit in the top 12 of the point standings so far this season with five and four points, respectively.

Birmingham has also been spiked by the return of both goaltenders, Mavric Parks and Charlie Millen, who split time at the position last year and were two of the top goaltenders in the league.

Parks has won two games with a goals against average of 2.50, while Millen has won one game and given up two goals.

Recaps from each of the first three games of the season are below.

Birmingham 5, Huntsville 4

The Bulls started the season with a strong opening period against rival Huntsville, taking a 3-1 lead early in the game, before holding on to take down the Havoc by a final score of 5-4.

Caleb Apperson and Jacob Barber put the Bulls on the board with the first two goals 6:50 and 13:10 into the game to put Birmingham on top 2-0.

Huntsville’s Zach Nieminen answered with a goal 36 seconds after Barber’s goal to cut the deficit to 2-1, but one of the Bulls’ leaders, Shane Topf responded with a goal less than two minutes later to put Birmingham up 3-1 at the end of the first period.

The Havoc drew within one thanks to a power-play goal from Stephen Hrehoriak at the 13:49 mark of the second period, but yet again the Bulls had an answer.

It came a little later this time, but Taylor Dickin was able to put a goal home with just 45 seconds left in the period thanks to assists from two other leaders in Justin Larson and Craig Simchuk.

In what had become a back-and-forth game, Huntsville’s Sy Nutkevitch scored early in the third period to bring Huntsville to within one again, but Birmingham’s Nick Owen took it back to a two-goal lead with 13:29 remaining in the game.

With 2:47 left to play, Connor Schmidt gave the Havoc hope with a goal, but Parks was able to keep Huntsville out of the net over the final two minutes to give the Bulls a 1-0 start on the season.

Birmingham had points from 11 different players in the game, including two from Kasey Kulczycki, Loren Ulett and Crisfield.

Birmingham 3, Pensacola 2

While the Bulls played from in front the entire first game and had to stave off the comeback, they did what Huntsville couldn’t in the second game of the season by pulling off a comeback after facing a two-goal deficit.

Pensacola scored midway through the first period on a power-play goal thanks to a slashing penalty, and scored again early in the second period to take a 2-0 lead.

Birmingham, however, was able to tie the game thanks to two power-play goals, one from Crisfield midway through the second period, and another from Mike Davis early in the third period.

Tied 2-2, Apperson was able to give the Bulls the lead on a goal with 12:48 left in the game off assists from Barber and Ulett to give Birmingham three unanswered goals and a 3-2 lead.

Millen, who turned things around early in the second period, was able to close out the rest of the game in net without allowing a goal, as he was just as responsible in the comeback as the goal scorers.

Birmingham 4, Evansville 1

With the Bulls gaining steam to start the season, they were able to pick up a dominant win against the Evansville Thunderbolt by a final score of 4-1 to pick up their third straight victory to start the season.

The Bulls took a 2-0 lead through two periods thanks to goals from Simchuk and Barber in the first and second periods, respectively.

Evansville was able to get within one goal thanks to a power-play goal from Eric Salzillo early in the third period, but Birmingham responded with a power-play goal of its own two minutes later from Mike Davis.

That was followed two minutes later by Simchuk’s second goal of the game to ice the game for the Bulls with less than three minutes remaining.

Simchuk, Larson and Crisfield all had two points in the game, while Parks gave up just one goal to pick up his second win.