Friday the Bulls won the first of three road games in three days against the Alaska Aces. It was the Bulls’ first win against Alaska out of four games this season. The final score was 5-2, with goals from Rob Kwiet, Jordan Clendenning, Cody Carlson, and two from Christian Ouellet. Goalie Taylor Nelson stopped 23 of 25 shots for the win. Alaska’s Zach Harrison and Chris Clackson scored for the Aces, with Mark Guggenberger stopping 26 of 30 shots.
Now pretend you didn’t read any of that. Those tell-all first paragraphs really ruin a story.
The Bulls scored first, but didn’t hold their lead for long. That first goal came near the half way mark of the first period. It was defenseman Rob Kwiet’s seventh goal of the season, with assists going to Dean Ouellet and Ryan Galiardi. Less than three minutes later, Zach Harrison tied the game for the Aces. Fisticuffs followed between Hans Benson and Dustin Molle. By the end of the period, the Bulls trailed on the shot clock 10-8.
In their three prior meetings, the first periods ended with the shot count at 14-6, 9-6, and 13-3, all for the Aces. The Bulls only scored first once before, in their very first meeting. Those games ended 4-1, 5-2, and 3-2 for the Aces. This first period was as close as the Bulls had been to the Aces in shots or score, and they hadn’t been that close very often.
Meanwhile, back in the Bay Area, the Stockton Thunder were hosting the Utah Grizzlies. As it would be to San Francisco’s advantage to not face the top Western team in the first round of the playoffs, it would be worth their while to get ahead of Utah. Stockton was ready to help:
@Benton_Mike: Thunder 2 – Utah 1 after 2 periods. Harrison Reed justifying a beauty effort on the power play. Thunder 17-0-4 when leading after 2.
Much earlier in the evening, Bakersfield had gained no ground on the Bulls, having lost to the Wheeling Nailers in West Virginia. The Nailers are, as one would suspect, an Eastern Conference team. Such meetings are infrequent in the ECHL, as the travel expenses are prohibitive.
Nevertheless, several games between eastern and western teams took place Friday. Las Vegas visited Trenton, New Jersey, and were defeated in overtime 4-3. Idaho went to South Carolina and defeated the Stingrays 4-3. The Las Vegas loss was the more salient result for the Bulls. While the Wranglers did not win, they still added a point to put them a little further out of reach for San Francisco.
The second period started with a number of trips that went uncalled, to the benefit of the Bulls. Finally, Jordan Clendenning did go to the box for tripping. The team handled that penalty kill. Roughly four minutes later,
@SFBullsInGame: #SFBULLS GOAL!!! Bulls take a 2-1 lead on Christian Ouellet’s first goal in a Bulls uniform!
That was momentous, not only for the new team member. The Bulls had retaken the lead against the winningest team in the league– no small feat for a team ranked next to last. The assists went to Alex Tuckerman and Jordan Morrison. About a minute later, the Bulls took another tripping penalty, this time to Jonathan Lessard.
A flurry of penalties ensued. The Bulls killed off Lessard’s but minutes later Peter Sivak was called for slashing. He had just started to serve that penalty when Alaska’s Gary Nunn took a hooking minor and left the teams to skate 4 on 4 for almost two minutes. Those penalties expired, and roughly 14 seconds later, Chris Clackson scored for Alaska to tie the game again.
The period ended with the Aces still ahead on the shot clock, 20-15. Neither team had scored a power play goal, though the Aces had three tries to the Bulls’ one chance.
Somewhere during that penalty-riddled frame, the audio feed scrambled, screamed out a tone like you hear during a test of the emergency broadcasting system and went dead. Back in Stockton, the Thunder gave up their 2-1 lead to fall 4-2 to Utah’s Grizzlies. Many threads were coming unraveled for the Bulls. But as any coach will tell you, the only thing a team can control is how they play, the only thing they can do to change course is win or lose.
The audio feed returned before the third period got under way. A quick review of shot counts from prior second periods between San Francisco and Alaska: 12-9, 15-8, and 11-6, again all for the Aces. Friday’s second period count was 10-7 for the Aces. Considering that the Aces had three power plays in that period alone, the difference was cause to hope, if the Bulls could stay out of the box.
If the Bulls can be said to have had a good period against the Aces before Friday, it would be the third. In the third period of their second meeting they tied Alaska in shots, in their third meeting the Bulls outshot them 9-6 during the final frame.
The Bulls started this third period aggressively, getting several shots on Alaska’s Mark Guggenberger right away. As the Bulls were busily eating away at the Aces’ shot lead, Jordan Clendenning put them ahead on the clock that counts:
@SFBullsInGame: #SFBULLS GOAL!!!! @Clendenning49 tips in a shot from @RobKwiet4 at 9:56 in the third. Bulls lead 3-2
Would the team’s faith in scoring first carry them all the way? It had never guaranteed a win for them, it had only seemed to be a pre-requisite for success. Could the late January Bulls accomplish what the late October Bulls had failed to do in three tries?
As if in answer, the audio feed screamed again and died.
The Bulls had caught the Aces on the shot clock as well. With seven minutes left in the game, the shots for the period stood at 12-3. A minute and a half later, Molle took a penalty for high-sticking. The Bulls could not convert on that power play but it killed time that the Aces might have used for aggressive offense.
The tables had certainly turned, but with almost five minutes left in the period, if the Aces deserved their name, they could certainly catch up again. The newest Ouellet had other ideas:
@SFBullsInGame: #SFBULLS GOAALLL!!!! Christan Ouellet with his second goal of the game at 14:22 for his 10th goal of the season! #GOBULLSGO
The assists for that goal went to Jordan Morrison and the recently acquired Sebastian Trudeau. I could only assume the crowd was very quiet as Bulls defenseman Cody Carlson put the puck in the empty net with 14 seconds to go.
It was just one game, one win on the road, but it was so much more than that for a fledgling team at the bottom of the standings.