It was the last time the Bulls would face the Ontario Reign this season, and the Bulls needed a win. They didn’t get one Friday, but they earned an important point by making it to a shootout against the top team in the ECHL. The final score was 4-3. Ontario’s Chris Carrozzi made 23 saves, Taylor Nelson made 24 for the Bulls. Dean Ouellet, Jordan Morrison and Cody Carlson scored for the Bulls, Ontario goals were scored by Kyle Kraemer (2) and Mario Lamoureux.
With only 17 wins in 46 games, San Francisco always needs a win, and they haven’t gotten many from Ontario. In nine meetings this season, the Bulls have only one win against the league leaders. The Bulls don’t need a win so much to make it into the playoffs as to redeem themselves after three losses in a row.
The Bulls are just 17-23-1-5 this season, good for fifth in the Pacific Division, eighth in the Western Conference. The only team below them are the Bakersfield Condors. All the Bulls need to make it into the playoffs is to stay ahead of the Condors. The recent losses represent a disheartening slide for a team that was just starting to find ways to win. Before the slide, they had won four of five games, two of those against Ontario’s only serious rival: the Alaska Aces.
Nine days ago the Bulls lost to Stockton in a shootout, after coming back twice to tie the game. The next loss was to the Reign, where bounces and strange calls hobbled them. That loss was frustrating but they went down fighting, still shooting, still playing. Last Wednesday they fell in a brutal 5-0 blowout by the Las Vegas Wranglers. They went down fighting then too, but in the literal sense. Hans Benson received an instigator penalty in the last five minutes of the game and a one-game suspension.
Benson’s absence was offset Friday by the return of skilled Slovakian winger Marek Viedensky. Viedensky joined the Bulls when the Worcester Sharks sent him down mid-November. Prior to suffering a knee injury, Viedensky was one of the team’s most reliable point producers with 16 in 17 games. Unfortunately, the Bulls were also missing points producer Peter Sivak, who is day to day with the flu.
Coach Pat Curcio opted to start the weekend’s three game marathon with Taylor Nelson in net. After pulling Nelson during the last game, Curcio said only:
I think that there was a couple of those goals that he’d love to have back, [but] it’s definitely not his fault. He’s played [unbelievably] for us, made saves for us when we needed them. We just can’t win without scoring.
The Bulls started the game out badly in Ontario, taking two penalties early. Viedensky went to the box for boarding only 38 seconds in. Alex Tuckerman followed him for holding at 7:33. At the same time, Scott Langdon dropped the gloves with Ontario’s Derek Couture and joined Tuckerman in the box. The penalties themselves were not the danger. The Bulls have a very strong penalty kill, possibly due to getting a lot of practice. The danger was that, being on the penalty kill, they would lose ground on the shot clock. Along with needing to score first, the Bulls haven’t had much luck against any team that they don’t outshoot. A power play near the end of the period helped. They ended the first only down by four shots.
In the first minutes of the second, defenseman Scott Langdon left the ice with an injury. Langdon’s only previous absence from the lineup was due to a two game suspension in early January. The team did not thrive in his absence, even dropping a game to the struggling Condors.
Six minutes into the period, Kyle Kraemer slid a puck past Nelson, putting the Reign up by one. Assists went to CJ Stretch and Derek Couture.
Langdon returned to the ice soon after.
Ontario’s Brady Calla was tripped at 12:39 into the period, earning him a penalty shot. Nelson stopped it to keep the game 1-0.
The Bulls were catching up on the shot clock, aided by a power play 4:22 into the third period, when Ontario’s Kevin Estrada and Mario Lamoureux took advantage of a breakdown in the Bulls’ defense and entered the zone two on none. Nelson stopped Lamoureux’s shot but Estrada picked up the rebound to put the Reign up 2-0. Kyle Kraemer followed that up with another quick goal, a breakaway that put Ontario up 3-0.
If the Bulls have an Achilles heel, it is an inability to recover when trailing. The recent shootout loss in Stockton was almost a break from that. The two losses that followed, each more lopsided than the last, made the comeback in Stockton appear to be an anomaly.
One observer offered this to break up the gloom of being down by 3 with just half a period to go:
@ashleyerinPRomo: Jordan Morrison and Dean Ouellet on the Kiss Cam. Hilarious. #GoBulls
The Bulls were in a deep hole, but not ready to quit. Dean Ouellet finally beat Ontario goalie Chris Carrozzi to get the Bulls on the scoreboard with 8:36 left in the game. The assist went to Christian Ouellet. Minutes later:
@SFBullsInGame: #SFBULLS GOAL!!! @1986jmorrison makes it 3-2 with 3:57 remaining in the third period! Let’s go Bulls!
The assist on Morrison’s goal went to Alex Tuckerman. A lengthy delay followed. That was explained by the following tweet from Ashley:
@ashleyerinPRomo: Uh oh.. Lessard let his anger get the best of him. Shattered the glass with his stick. Some seriously pissed @ontarioreign fans now…
The Bulls came back from the rink repair delay and tied the game. Nelson got off the to give the team an extra skater, and Cody Carlson scored with help from Christian Ouellet at 19:21 of the third.
A scoreless overtime led to the shootout. Dean Ouellet and Carlson scored for the Bulls. Lamoureux and Brodie Sheahan scored for the Reign, with the Calla scoring the shootout winner in the seventh round.
The Bulls had fallen again in a shootout, after an even more heroic comeback than they’d pulled off in Stockton. Will that single point be enough to restore the team’s compete level? Or will the frustration weigh them down? At the very least, they are done playing the Ontario Reign for the regular season. Fans can be glad of that.
Jason Lockhart, Bulls radio announcer, singled out the game tying goal from Cody Carlson as the Play of the Game and named Jordan Morrison the Player of the Game. It so happens that Morrison played in the Texas Wildcatters’ last game in 2008. That would be irrelevant except that the Ontario Reign used to be the Texas Wildcatters. Morrison also played last season and the season before with the Ontario Reign, before joining the Bulls. You can bet he wishes he’d scored in the shootout.
The Bulls will host the Bakersfield Condors Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the Cow Palace, wearing teal-colored jerseys in honor of their affiliation with the San Jose Sharks. Jerseys will be auctioned off on both days, visit the Bulls site for the complete details.
Originally published at Inside Hockey.