It was a big win. It didn’t clinch a playoff spot, it wasn’t their first win ever, but it was a big win. It was the first time the team won three in a row, and their first win against the Reign. It was a chance for the team to take a significant lead, hang on to it and build it to a final score of 5-1. It was a big win for the Bulls, and it was a win for Pat Curcio and his roster overhaul.
I felt sort of badly for writing about the 7-0 Bulls loss a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t seem fair to cover that game in such detail, and say so little about them after that. But that was the game I went to. By Friday night, the team looked completely different. If you had told me that replacing half of the players in the space of two weeks would result in a consistent and almost shocking improvement, I would not have believed you. I’m a believer in slow-growth chemistry. You don’t just throw guys together and they all know what to do, not outside of Hollywood disaster films.
Everything looked better. Those errant passes, those innumerable penalties, the frantic clears becoming turnovers, all of that was gone. How significant was it that Devin Setoguchi didn’t make the trip with the Reign? The Reign beat the Bulls without Setoguchi in their first meeting, though it was very close. Setoguchi scored a lot in the games he played against San Francisco, but I’m not sure he accounted for every little thing going wrong for the Bulls before. Just as the Reign’s lineup looked different, so did the Bulls’.
Marek Viedensky was everywhere. With two goals and two assists, he seems to be very much settled in. Peter Sivak was the only player to vie with Viedensky for points, earning two assists and a goal. Evidently there was a language barrier causing some interference before. That has been corrected.
Daniil Tarasov arrived from Worcester in time to play Friday. The only time I heard his name called was when he was chosen to sit for a too many men penalty. That was fine though, because he didn’t stick out like someone who just got there.
Alex Tuckerman, playing his fifth game with the Bulls, scored the second Bulls goal of the game. Dean Ouellet scored the fifth. Justin Bowers and Sacha Guimond ended the night with two assists each. The team’s penalty minute leaders were defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin with 12 and center Jordan Clendenning with 10. That third period was a bit of a melee.
The shot clock reflected the team’s confidence. The first period ended 15-7 Bulls. Not surprisingly, the Reign pushed back in the second with 18 shots to the Bulls’ 9, but the Bulls rebounded in the third with some help from Reign penalty-takers so that ended 11-4 Bulls. Thomas Heemskerk didn’t have a lot to do in the first period, but the Bulls goalie wasn’t caught napping when the Reign put some pressure on in the second.
The Bulls were hardly ever trapped in their zone, they were the relentless attackers. The regular penalty killers had to be re-tasked– the Bulls didn’t have many penalties to kill until late in the second period. They sustained the pressure, gave Ontario goalie Berube plenty to do, kept the Reign defense off balance. Their penalty kill was tested in the last five minutes of the second, with three penalties bunched together, two back to back and about a minute of 5 on 3 thrown in. They were ready for it by then, though neither team killed their first period penalties successfully and each went into the second with a power play goal.
The Reign had a rough game, but it wasn’t a simple case of role reversal. They didn’t look so scattered or unsettled as the Bulls had looked weeks ago. In most places on the ice, they held together just fine. Their passes weren’t bouncing wildly over their sticks, they didn’t spend the whole game stuck in their zone. It was a much better game than the final score would imply, but the Bulls had a lot to prove and they did it.
The announced attendance was 4, 128. The Bulls pay attention to putting on a good show. Glitches don’t stop them. During the game, I noticed a Tweeted complaint from someone who was somewhere else watching a junior game: a pane of glass broke and it took much too long to fix it. I don’t know how you hurry fixing glass, aside from hurrying, but the Bulls have had their share of glitches to handle. The team had to push the zamboni off the ice during one game. Friday, clock troubles held up the start of the third, and when the time clock landed on 20, but read 4th period, well, they went with it. The third was played with a big 4 in the middle of the scoreboard. And that is just fine, the show must go on– with as little delay as possible.
Justin Bowers, team captain, spoke with David Pollak and Brodie Brazil at length after the game. He shared a comprehensive view of the Bulls project. He is a veteran of start up teams, this being his third. Look to Pollak and Brazil for the details of what he said but what impressed me most was that: he talked about the big picture, on and off the ice, the state of the market, the various factors leading to roster changes, the mindset of the players and the coaches. I imagine anyone who is in the business for long enough will have an understanding of all these things, but talking about it is another story. I never once felt like he implied that a particular area was someone else’s concern. It gives some weight to the old cliche: there is no “I” in team.
The walls in the dressing rooms are still shiny from new paint. There are poster-sized game photos filling in the blank spaces. Maybe all the photos are from a single game or a few early games, I don’t know, but they fill in the gaps nicely. They make the old hallways new and vibrant. It reminded me of moving into a dorm room or a new office. Get to work, be where you are, make the world what you want it to be. It really puts that other league to shame, seeing the Bulls growing their team, their fan base, their business venture.
I admit, I am biased. I love the Cow Palace. I could care less about ever going back to my old high school grounds, but the Cow Palace? That is where my strongest young memories live. So much passes through that old building, so many stalls and sets are put up, moved into, worked in, lived in, taken down and packed away again. The empty wings always made me a little sad, like the space was lonely after the party ended. The building is a framework for passing worlds, seasonal events. Seeing someone actually paint the walls, something I wasn’t allowed to do, being a transient resident… somehow, that makes me feel better about the empty space in the wings. The Cow Palace isn’t just a stage the Bulls are visiting, it’s a home. The old girl isn’t so lonely between shows now.
The only thing missing from that home was the warmth of optimism that comes from winning. Elouise Curcio called last night a big win. It really was. I don’t know if Pat Curcio is ready to say it, but I am: I love it when a plan comes together.
(Originally published at Kukla’s Korner.)