By Andrew Simonson | Shelby County Reporter
After the Birmingham Bulls took sole possession of first place in the SPHL with a shootout loss to the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs on Friday, Jan. 5, it looked like that lead would be short-lived as they trailed 2-0 in the second period to the Pensacola Ice Flyers the next night. As it turned out, it was the Ice Flyers’ lead that was short-lived.
The Bulls roared back to win 4-2 over Pensacola in front of the first sellout crowd of the season at the Pelham Civic Complex and Ice Arena on Saturday, Jan. 6. Birmingham got the better of the Ice Flyers in the early minutes of the game, dominating the possession battle and sending multiple quality shots on the opposing net. However, the Bulls couldn’t find the back of the net in the first period, and that cost them with with 8:29 to go as Pensacola made a strong drive to the net to give Houston Wilson his first goal of the season.
While the Ice Flyers scored against the run of play, it wouldn’t matter as the visitors took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. The momentum was flipped to start the second period as Pensacola controlled the tempo with the early lead. The Ice Flyers would double up their advantage five minutes into the second as Ivan Bondarenko scored to increase the lead to 2-0. For the next 10 minutes, it looked like Birmingham would be unable to respond as even a two-minute power play midway through the period came and went without a goal.
That all changed with 5:05 left in the period when Carson Vance and Carson Rose found Brian Bowen for a goal to get on the scoreboard. The goal electrified the crowd of 4,282 Bulls fans and helped Drake Glover equalize three minutes later with his 18th goal of the season. Birmingham goaltender Hayden Stewart made a string of phenomenal saves to close out the period and send the teams to the second intermission tied 2-2. Stewart finished the night with 26 saves off 28 shots faced.
Now with all of the momentum in their favor, the Bulls went to the Rose-to-Bowen connection on offense again and produced the go-ahead goal by Bowen at the 6:05 mark of the third period. With the crowd now in a frenzy and the comeback complete, Birmingham controlled the third period. The hosts killed off a pair of Rose minor penalties and outshot Pensacola 11-7 in the third. With 4:43 left in the game, Troy MacTavish gave the Bulls their own two-goal lead after previously trailing by two with his fifth goal of the season off an assist from Dylan Johnson.
Pensacola never threatened even with three power plays in the third period, and Birmingham held off the Ice Flyers’ empty net offense to secure the 4-2 win. Bowen was the third star for scoring two goals, Rose earned the second star for his two-assist night and Johnson took home the first star for his third-period assist. With the victory, the Bulls now have 40 points on the season and are one point ahead of the Fayetteville Marksmen for first place in the SPHL.
Birmingham will have a chance to extend that lead with three home games over Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend. The Bulls will host the Quad City Storm on Friday, Jan. 12 and Saturday, Jan. 13 with both contests set for a 7 p.m. puck drop. In addition, they will face the Knoxville Ice Bears on Monday, Jan. 15 at 1 p.m. for their Martin Luther King, Jr. Day game at the Pelham Civic Complex and Ice Arena.