October 22, 2017 - Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) - Mississippi RiverKings
SOUTHAVEN, Miss - The RiverKings rode the momentum of Fridays night's win and knocked off the Birmingham Bulls 3-1 in the Bulls inaugural game in the SPHL.
In a trend that has carried through both games this weekend, Mississippi has yet to trail in a game. As the first period ticked down, it was clear both teams were in a feeling out process as neither team truly held the momentum for any significant length of time. It wasn't until the 5:38 mark when the RiverKings drew first blood. Taking an offensive zone draw, Dillan Fox won the face-off in textbook fashion, backhanded and between his legs. His pass landed on the stick of defenseman Ralfs Grinbergs who laced a shot from the point which hit a skate in front and beat Bulls netminder Mavric Parks.
The RiverKings would jump out to a two-goal lead later in the second period thanks to their power play. When Steven Phee got taken to the box for slashing at 10:59 of the second period, the RiverKings got to work right away. They only needed 14 seconds to net their second goal on a play that closely mirrored the setup which got them their first goal. Devin Mantha won the draw clean to the point. Grinbergs was there to receive the pass, but instead of winding up and taking a shot like he did last time, he slid a pass along the blue-line to Kristaps Bazevics. On the Latvian-to-Latvian connection, Bazevics made a couple of strides into the circle before rifling a shot past Parks and moving the score to 2-0 in favor of the home team.
That two-goal lead would last all of 43 seconds before the Bulls came charging back to cut the lead in half. Alexander Tauline will go down in SPHL as the goal scorer of the first goal in Birmingham Bulls history when his delicately placed wrist shot beat rookie goaltender Jared Rutledge. Tauline came streaking down the boards and dropped a pass for Brandon Millin who found Darius Cole near the top of the far circle. Taking slightly longer than a second he discovered a passing lane and went tape-to-tape with Tauline who snapped a shot past Rutledge for the first goal of the game, of the season, and of the Bulls SPHL existence.
A different RiverKings came out of the locker room from the second intermission, but that's not a bad thing. With the one-goal lead, their focus was on offense first and getting that ever important insurance goal. A secondary concern it seemed, was using the clock to their advantage. A good portion of the third period was spent with the puck tied along the boards, getting poked out, only to end up back on the boards. The play handcuffed Birmingham and didn't allow them to organize on any rushes and quickly ran out of time. Goaltender Mavric Parks made his way to the bench in favor of an extra attacker with 1:15 showing on the game clock. Pressing hard, the RiverKings managed to keep the puck in the offensive zone for the better part of that time, when an interception landed on the stick of Yesmukhan Tolepbergen who put the icing on the cake. While skating near the slot, he smelled an outlet pass coming from the Bulls and cut it off right near the hash marks. Left wide open with an even more wide open net staring at him, Yesmukhan fired a shot which found the twine and sealed the game for the RiverKings 3-1. Tolepbergen, one-half of the rookie brothers from Kazakhstan, not only got his first goal of the season and his SPHL career but his North American career as well. The RiverKings would win the ensuing faceoff with just 13 seconds on the clock where they counted down to the second victory in as many nights.
Mississippi will hit the road next week in their first away game of the season against the Pensacola IceFlyers on Friday, 10/27. The following week on Friday 11/3 the team returns home to take on the defending champions, Macon at Planters Bank Ice at Landers Center. Get your tickets for Titanic Night when the RiverKings battle with the Mayhem at www.riverkings.com/ticketmaster.
About the Mississippi RiverKings
The RiverKings are supported by our community partners, season ticket holders, fans, and grants from Maddox Foundation, an independent private foundation based in Hernando, Miss. To find out more about the RiverKings, call 662-342-1755 or visit RiverKings.com.