It was the first time this season that a Bulls home game went head to head with the San Jose Sharks. How many people would show up to watch San Francisco while just down the road the revved-up Sharks faced the Oilers, gunning for a seventh win to add to their historic season-start? The answer: 2,674. That was pretty low compared to their season average, but it was the most tickets they’ve sold for a mid-week home game this season. The next time the Bulls and the Sharks will play home games on the same night will be Wednesday, March 27.
The Bulls players were facing an equally daunting adversary on the ice. Before the game even started, the teams met at the red line for a chat. Cooler heads prevailed, no blood was shed. They followed the game up with another unscheduled conference, which officials helped disband. The Stockton Thunder may be the Bulls’ Bay Area rivals, but the Bulls and the Reign don’t seem particularly friendly. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they were exchanging movie recommendations for bus trips. Asked about it later, Coach Pat Curcio said only:
I think it was just frustrating that they find ways to beat us all the time. We’ve got a good group of guys that want to work hard and it’s just frustrating the way they play. They deserve a lot of credit. They’re a good hockey team, they came in here tonight and we can’t say they outplayed us, they just had bounces early and the hole was too deep for us to dig out of.
The only real competition the Reign has faced this season, at least in the standings, has been the Alaska Aces. Ontario had beaten the Bulls pretty badly in two out of three visits to the Cow Palace. Last night, the score sheet suggests they did so again, with a lopsided final score of 5-2. It didn’t look that lopsided.
First of all, the shot count was out of whack to start the game. I don’t know if they ever remedied it. But when the teams were well-past the mid point of the first period, the clock still showed only two shots for the Bulls and twelve for Ontario. My own inadequate observations knew that wasn’t right. I watched Bulls players take two shots that Reign goalie Berube thought were worth stopping, and still the clock didn’t change. But even before I started counting shots, Ontario didn’t look so completely dominant. The Bulls had some good zone time, they were not giving the puck away, they were not chasing their tails or the Reign.
Curcio had a less positive impression of the team’s start:
We just looked flat and the next thing you know we found ourselves in a two nothing hole. When we did get chances, their goalie made some amazing saves. When we finally started to turn on in the third, it was too late.
The first penalty of the game was a bench minor to the Bulls for unsportsmanlike conduct. It came a early in the second period. It was a strong indicator of how frustrated the Bulls were after the first period chaos.
Two quick goals for the Reign would have been enough to sink the early season Bulls, but this team kept pushing, drawing several penalties later for their troubles. The Bulls had two power plays close together in the second but only got the puck in the next once during those. It was called back for intent to blow the whistle. There was no second period scoring until a Bulls player fell over the blue line and let Mario Lamoureux get the jump on everyone for a short-handed goal. That made it 3-0.
The Bulls made their share of mistakes, but didn’t deserve that fate. Dean Ouellet took at least one stick to the face, and while an official did blow the whistle to let him get to the bench, no penalty was called. Of that, Curcio said:
It’s frustrating because when we’ve done similar things we’ve ended up with the linesmen calling majors and tonight something like that happens and they said it was a follow through and there was no call.
If the Bulls achieved anything in the loss, it was to keep playing with conviction as long as they did. They finally got on the board with a third period power play goal from Dean Ouellet. A goal from Peter Sivak brought them within one and gave them some hope in the last three minutes. But the Reign answered back a minute and a half later and as soon as Nelson was pulled the Bulls lost the puck and Kyle Kraemer scored the empty net goal.
San Francisco goals were scored by Dean Ouellet (PPG, Carlson, Trudeau) and Peter Sivak (Danis-Pepin, Trudeau). Taylor Nelson made 24 saves for the Bulls.
Ontario goals were scored by Matthew Clune (Everett Sheen, Kyle Kraemer), CJ Stretch (2) (both assisted by Kyle Kraemer, Everett Sheen with secondary assist on the first), Mario Lamoureux, and Kyle Kraemer (Brock Sheahan). Jean-Francois Berube made at least 28 saves for the win.
The Bulls won’t play again until they host the Las Vegas Wranglers next Wednesday.