By Jame Hayes | Field Pass Hockey
The Birmingham Bulls came into the 2022-23 season with a full head of steam this past weekend. They traveled to Danville to take on the Vermilion County Bobcats in a pair of games and came out of the weekend with four points. They crashed the home opener party for the Bobcats, winning 4-1, then lit the lamp eight times Saturday night en route to an 8-4 victory.
Slow Start, Quick Recovery
It was the Bobcats that started the scoring early in the first game on Friday night. Just 3:34 into the game, the Bulls found themselves trailing after TJ Delaney snuck one past Hayden Stewart. From there forward, it was all Bulls all the time. Rookie Michael Gillespie tied things up at the 8:59 mark, notching his first North American professional goal. The two teams ended the first period, all tied up at one.
Vermilion County’s Matt O’Shaughnessy was called for slashing in the first minute of the second period. This gave the Bulls their second power play of the night. The Bulls took their first lead of the night a minute into the power play. Carson Rose dished the puck over to Jordan Martin. Martin wasted no time finding the back of the net, beating Brett Epp for his first goal of the season.
The third period started very much like the second period. Once again, early on, O’Shaughnessy was called for a slashing penalty putting the Bulls on the power play two minutes into the final frame. This time, Rose capitalized on the opportunity, getting his first goal of the season. Dylan Johnson added another goal later in the period, and the Bulls went on to take game one of the weekend series.
You Get a Goal, You Get a Goal, You Get a Goal!
Night two in Danville was a display of offensive prominence. At the 4:31 point of the period, the scoring started, and the Bulls scored three goals in a minute and thirty seconds. Gillespie scored twice, and captain Mike Davis snuck one in behind Chris O’Shaughnessy. The scoring did not stop there, in any case. Gillespie completed the natural hat trick later on in the period with his third of the game and fourth of the season. The captain struck again to close out the period when he scored on the power play after another beautiful setup pass from Carson Rose.
Thirty-nine seconds into the second period is all it took for the scoring to pick up again. Offseason acquisition Stepan Timofeyev got his first as a Bull, and the wagon was rolling. The other former Ice Bear on the team, Stefan Brucato, wanted his piece of the pie as well and took a pass from Timofeyev to put the Bulls up by seven, only 5:39 into the second. Vermilion County did add one late from Matt O’Shaughnessy to break the shutout.
Keeping the trend of scoring early in the periods, Carson Rose notched the Bull’s eighth goal of the night 1:17 into the third. Shortly after that, the Bobcats showed that they had had enough. They went on to score three goals to close out the game. The Bobcat goals came from former Bull Aaron Ryback and Sullivan Shortreed. It was too little, too late at that point, and the Bulls went on to win the game and sweep the Bobcats on opening weekend in their own house.
After a successful weekend, head coach Craig Simchuk had this to say:
“We are really happy with how the weekend went. There is room for improvement, but it being the first weekend, we liked what we saw. We have a lot of skill and speed mixed with hockey IQ. We have to continue to work on defense first, as well as being committed to playing a full 60 minutes. I thought the effort from everyone was there all weekend which is great to see. All the players are hungry and want to win, and it shows.”
Carson Rose and Michael Gillespie are scary good to start the season. The two accounted for a combined 13 points on the weekend. Rose finished with two goals and five assists, while Gillespie had four goals and two assists.
The defense showed some significant improvement from what we saw last year. Despite the late third-period collapse on Saturday night, anyways. They held the Bobcats to only nine shots total during the second and third periods on Friday night. Saturday, they looked great but may have gotten a little bit too comfortable with that seven-goal lead.
Look out! Yes, it was a weekend sweep against a team struggling to date back to last season. Remember, though, that The Bulls split the season series against this team last year. So, for now, look out for this team. They showed on opening weekend that they are not looking to have a repeat of the past two seasons.
Next up for the Bulls is round one of the “Battle for Bama.” Birmingham will travel to Huntsville Friday night and face a Huntsville team that handled business as well this past weekend. The Havoc took down Pensacola 6-4 in Pensacola and then shut out the Macon Mayhem at the Macon Centreplex on Friday night. This will be the home opener for the Havoc and a big test for the Bulls early this season.
Saturday night, the Bulls will finally get to play on home ice when they welcome the Knoxville Ice Bears into the Pelham Civic Center. Knoxville split this past weekend’s games with the Evansville Thunderbolts and showed that they are a team of resilience that will not give up until the final horn sounds.