By Andrew Simonson | Shelby County Reporter
After one of the most memorable seasons in team history, the Birmingham Bulls are back with unfinished business in the 2023-24 season. While the Bulls reached the SPHL President’s Cup Finals for just the second time in team history in 2023, they came up just short after losing to the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs in overtime in Game 4.
Even with all of their success last season, that loss still stings for the coaches and players after seeing Roanoke celebrate in front of their fans. “I’ve said to a bunch of people this summer, this was the one year I actually got to make it to the finals in pro hockey and I think it was the longest off-season I’ve ever had,” Bulls goaltender Austin Lotz said. “It’s almost easier to not make the playoffs than to go all the way to the finals and then lose.”
Since then, the Bulls have been hard at work under head coach Craig Simchuk to make improvements in practice. Now that they know they can reach the finals, Lotz said that it’s all about finding out what little things they need to break through and win a title.
“There are little things behind closed doors that every team always tries to improve on, but honestly, I think it’s really just comes down to just the sheer motivation from last year and the hunger to get over the hump and win a championship,” Lotz said.
Lotz is one of many veterans on the Bulls team this year. While he admitted that it is impossible to bring back everyone at a team like the Bulls, he believes veteran players like leading scorer Michael Gillespie will help with the continuity from last year and establish a winning standard.
In addition, Simchuk and the coaching staff have brought in talented players from all over North America and Europe to assemble a team that has returning players like Lotz excited to see how they gel, even with the team playing together for just a few weeks.
“I’ve got to give credit to the coaching staff,” Lotz said. “They brought in some gems this year, and everyone’s gotten along really well. Having as many guys returning this year as we do, it’s kind of set the standard for even the guys coming in who have realized, ‘OK, this is not just another team, another season. These guys, they’re in it to win it.’ And I think most of the guys, from what I can tell so far, have bought in to that.”
It will be a big task to reach the finals again this season, but Lotz knows that win or lose, the fans from Pelham and the Birmingham area will support them no matter what. The Bulls set league attendance records last season, and the packed atmospheres during the playoffs helped lift the team during its run to the title game.
Lotz and the veterans have seen the support even during the down years, and they know that it will carry on into this season.
“Whether you’re a guy like myself who’s been here for a few years or you’re a new guy, you notice right away,” Lotz said. “The fans have a direct impact on our club and our results and our games just because they pick us up so much here. I’ve seen nothing but support from our fans, good or bad.”
The Bulls will kick off their season on Friday, Oct. 20 at home against their rivals, the Huntsville Havoc. While their showdowns with the Havoc are always big games, their 28-game home schedule is filled with exciting matchups against top teams, including finals rematches against Roanoke on Feb. 3, March 15 and March 16.
The Bulls expect a packed house for many games this season, and they always look forward to the home-ice advantage they get in Pelham. “We have one of the smaller rinks in the league and they pack that arena and it’s loud, which the boys obviously just love,” Lotz said. “It’s not hard to get up for a game when you play here.”
For the Birmingham Bulls’ full schedule and information about single-game and season tickets, visit Bullshockey.net. The team will also return multiple popular promotions throughout the season which can also be found on their website.