By James Hayes
The Evansville Thunderbolts traveled down to the Pelham Civic Complex on Thursday night to take on the Birmingham Bulls. However, the Bulls were not very friendly hosts and sent the Thunderbolts out of town with a 2-1 loss. The win did not come easy for either team, and it took nearly the whole 60 minutes to decide a winner. The scoring started early in the first period when Alex Cohen put the puck on net, and Evansville netminder Chris Janzen kicked the rebound right out to Carson Rose. Rose snapped the puck into the wide-open net, and just 1:50 into the game, the Bulls took an early lead. Less than a minute later, tempers flared between Cameron Cook and David Nippard just to the left of the Thunderbolt goalie. They dropped the gloves and put on a show for the fans in a very spirited tilt, and then both players went to the penalty box for five minutes for fighting.
The remainder of the period featured physical play, and the Thunderbolts were showing the Bulls that they would not let them have any piece of ice without a battle. Birmingham faced two first-period penalties, whose penalty left a lot to be desired last time on home ice. The Bull's penalty kill unit successfully kept this a one-goal game heading into the second period. Hayden Stewart and Janzen stayed busy during the period facing a combined 27 shots.
Tensions continued to boil over from the physical play of the first period, and at 2:50 into the middle frame; we saw our second fight of the night. Evansville's Hayden Hulton and Brody Duncan of the Bulls tied up after Hulton laid a hit that Duncan didn't take too kindly. Both players landed some nice punches before Hulton finally took Duncan down to the ice. Shortly thereafter, the Bulls received their first power play of the night when Janzen was called for a delay of game penalty. However, the powerplay unit couldn't get the job done, and the score remained 1-0. With under five minutes to go in the second period, a Bulls turnover in their own zone created a scoring chance for Evansville. Timothy Faulkner stripped the puck away and sent it to the right faceoff circle where Cameron Cook was waiting. Cook found Josh Adkins flying into the left of Stewart, and Adkins buried the puck in the back of the net, tying the game up. Heading into the locker room after two periods, both teams knew it would be extremely difficult to get the next goal.
Birmingham was gifted an early third-period power play when Hulton was called for high-sticking just 20 seconds in. The Bull's power play unit had a few big opportunities, but Janzen stood tall in the net, and the score remained tied. The hard-nosed, physical play continued throughout the period, but nobody was solving the goaltender puzzles on either side of the rink. Evansville thought they had an answer with under ten minutes remaining, and they got the puck behind Stewart. However, the goal was called back because it was hit in with a high stick. With under a minute remaining, everyone thought this would be the fifth time this season that we would see Evansville and Birmingham need overtime to decide the game. Alex Cohen had other plans, though. Jake Pappalardo took a shot at the net, and chaos ensued in the blue paint as Janzen tried to locate the puck. Cohen found it first and sent the puck into the back of the net. As Cohen skated behind the net to celebrate, Evansville's Josh Adkins cross-checked Cohen headfirst into the boards in a scary moment that left Cohen lying on the ice momentarily. Cohen was able to get up and seemed to be ok. Adkins spent the remainder of the game in the penalty box and may get a call from the league office before it's all said and done.
At the end of the night, the Bulls were victorious and captured their 16th win of the season. Next up for the Bulls is two games in Macon against the Mayhem. The Mayhem are having one of the worst seasons in the league's history but have found success against the Bulls, getting five of their nine wins at the expense of Birmingham. Nonetheless, the Bulls are looking to close out their season on a high note and will look to take down the Mayhem on the road before heading home for the final weekend of the regular season against the Huntsville Havoc.