By James Hayes | Field Pass
On Legends Night in Pelham, AL The Birmingham Bulls welcomed in the Knoxville Ice Bears for the 8th matchup between the teams this season. Coming into the night the Bulls had yet to beat the Ice Bears on the season. In front of 2686 fans, including some legendary players from the WHA Bulls in the 70’s, Birmingham looked to capitalize on the night to move closer to that final playoff spot. Hayden Stewart got the nod in net for the Bulls and on the other side, he would face former Bull and one of the season's top goaltenders Austyn Roudebush.
The first period started with tons of energy from a pumped-up crowd as well as a determined Bulls team. Both teams would take their chances at the net early on but both goaltenders showed that they were not going to let in anything easy on the night. With 6:45 remaining in the period Birmingham’s Chris Lijdsman was sent to the penalty box for elbowing and the Bulls went on the penalty kill for the second time early in the game.
Knoxville did not waste any time on this powerplay and just 37 seconds into it they would get the first goal of the game. The goal came from a Jacob Benson shot that looked to have been incidentally tipped in by a Bulls defender but nonetheless the score would be 1-0 in favor of the Ice Bears. The first period would come to an end with the Bulls down 1-0 and looking to generate a few more shots on goal in the second period.
The second period started very quickly for Birmingham and just 36 seconds into the period Captain Logan Nelson and Cole Stallard came into the offensive zone on a 2 on 1 breakaway, Nelson sent the puck over to Stallard in the slot and Stallard did his part by one-timing the puck past Roudebush making it a 1-1 game early in the 2nd period.
The Bulls continued to pressure Knoxville and would play very fast and furious through the opening minutes of the period. At the 6:45 mark in the second period, both teams would receive minor penalties which meant 4 on 4 hockey for 2 minutes. About a minute into the 4 on 4 play Knoxville capitalized on the open ice and once again took the lead when Nick Master took a shot from the slot and beat Stewart high on the stick side. Both teams continued to push the physical play throughout the period and would exchange penalties.
As the period was coming to a close Knoxville’s Brett Beauvais took a slashing penalty and the Bulls would go on the powerplay for the final 51 seconds of the period. 40 seconds later Knoxville would find themselves in even more penalty trouble when Andrew McLean got called for holding which put the Bulls on a 5 on 3 powerplay with 11 seconds left in the middle frame. 6 seconds was all the Bulls needed to find the back of the net when they would get the puck cycling well in front of the net and Jacob Smith sent a pass to Mike Davis who then tipped the puck into a wide-open net sending the Bulls to the locker room all tied up at 2.
When the 3rd period got going you could see both teams understood the importance of the next goal as neither side wanted to give up an inch on the ice.
Birmingham would have to fend off two Knoxville powerplays early on but continued to put pressure on Roudebush and the Ice Bears. With 3:35 remaining in the final period Cole Stallard sent a pass to the front of the net from the left corner that found Jacob Smith able to put the puck into a wide-open net giving the Bulls their first lead of the night. 41 seconds later the Bulls got another opportunity when JM Piotrowski led an odd man rush off a quick transition. He delayed and found a trailing Kasey Kulczycki who fired a shot at Roudebush and the rebound went over to Cameron Strong. Strong had a clear view of the back of the net and put the puck to the back of the cage with authority making it 4-2 Bulls with 2:54 remaining.
Birmingham would have to kill off a delay of game penalty with 2:14 remaining in the game but the penalty killers were up to the challenge. The Bulls went on to win it at home in front of a big crowd and some Bulls legends with a score of 4-2.
Not only was this a big win in front of the home crowd but also in the standings as well. The Pensacola Ice Flyers, who currently sit in the final playoff spot, lost both of their games over the weekend so Saturday night Birmingham gained 3 points on the Ice Flyers in the standings.
The Bulls now only trail Pensacola by 4 pts and will get an opportunity this Wednesday to close the gap even more when they Travel down to Pensacola to face the Ice Flyers for the 12th time this