By Alec Etheredge | Shelby County Reporter
The Birmingham Bulls overcame a 1-0 series deficit against the Fayetteville Marksmen to advance to the semifinals of the SPHL Presidents Cup Playoffs. The Bulls, who lost 3-2 at Fayetteville to open the series, bounced back to win the final two games of the series both on home ice inside the Pelham Civic Complex April 15-16.
Birmingham won game two 4-2 on Saturday night before finishing off the series comeback on Sunday night with a 2-0 shutout to advance to the semifinals where they’ll face off with in-state rival Huntsville. After dropping the opening game of the series in overtime by a final of 3-2, the Bulls had a day off before returning home to Pelham. Facing elimination, the Bulls found an offensive game plan that worked well.
That led to Birmingham playing with the lead in the must-win game as Ryan Romeo scored the game’s first goal off assists from Mike Davis and Jake Pappalardo 10:25 into the opening period. Three minutes later, Austin Alger evened the score with a goal of his own for the Marksmen, making it 1-1 at the end of the opening quarter. In the second period, however, it was the home team that quickly built some confidence and separation.
The Bulls got a goal 50 seconds into the period that set the tone for the first 12 minutes of the second frame. Carson Rose scored on the power play off assists from Michael Gillespie and Artur Terchivev to give Birmingham a 2-1 advantage. Then, with 9:19 left in the period, Davis found the back of the net with a power-play goal of his own thanks to an assist from Gillespie. Fayetteville’s Andrew Lane did draw the visitor’s to within a goal late in the period with 3:24 to play, making it 3-2 going to the final period.
In a thrilling fight to the finish, the third period was a back-and-forth affair, but the Bulls did enough defensively to protect the lead, while goalie Hayden Stewart began what was going to be a special two nights. He was a perfect 7-for-7 on saves in the final period, while the Bulls eventually closed out the win with an empty netter from Stefan Brucato to pick up the 4-2 victory and advance to the win-or-go-home game Sunday night.
Stewart saved 27 of the 29 shots he faced in the game in net, while Romeo and Davis both finished with a goal and an assist in the win. Gillespie added two assists, while Brucato and Rose added the other two goals.
In the series finale, it was Stewart who stepped up big for his team. Facing one more shot than the night prior, he staved off all 30 shots on goal faced in the team’s biggest game of the season. That, along with a pair of goals from Pappalardo, helped lead the Bulls to a 2-0 shutout to keep their season alive. Fayetteville, however, was the aggressive team early. The Marksmen came out with 15 shots on goal, but none were on the mark, as Stewart started hot in goal.
The Bulls got off seven shots, but none found the back of the net, leading to a scoreless opening period. It looked like the second period might face the same fate, but with 4:09 left in the frame, Pappalardo made the first of his two shots on a shot that slid under the pad of the Fayetteville goalie, while Scott Donahue and Mike Davis earned an assist on the goal.
That would have been enough, but near the same make in the final period, Pappalardo gave his team some breathing room with a second goal with 4:48 to play, leading to the 2-0 victory. Aside from the success of Stewart and Pappalardo, Doug Blaisdell, Donahue, Brucato and Davis all had assists in the win.
The Bulls will now gear up for a bout with No. 1 seed and rival Huntsville for a spot in the championship series.