Bulls drop two in a row to Thunder

The Bulls played their last home game for February Sunday afternoon.   They fell 3-1 to Stockton, San Francisco’s second loss in two nights to the Thunder.

A disappointing performance the night before left San Francisco with nothing to show but 73 penalty minutes, most of which were earned in a ten man brawl late in the third period.  The 4-0 loss was unexpected, especially after San Francisco’s surprising and hard-fought win in Idaho on Wednesday.  Stockton, bolstered by some new talent in their lineup, outplayed the Bulls from the start, keeping them off the score board and staying well ahead on the shot clock. The Bulls lost board battles and spent  too much of the game trying to gain or retain possession of the puck.  After Stockton took a four goal lead, head coach Pat Curcio pulled his starting goalie, Taylor Nelson, and replaced him with Thomas Heemskerk.  Heemskerk saved all 22 shots he faced.

Sunday, Thomas Heemskerk started in goal, facing Tyler Bunz for Stockton.  San Francisco’s Kris Belan and Stockton’s Ryan Green started things off with a fight at 1:42.

Apart from one lengthy shift in the offensive zone for each team,  the period was uneventful after the fight, until the Bulls were given a bench minor for unsportmanlike conduct at 10:56.  It was served by Hans Benson.  Before the penalty expired, Stockton’s Ryan Constant took Kris Belan down to prevent a breakaway.  Constant went to the box.

After 35 seconds of four on four play, the Bulls went on an abbreviated power play.  They didn’t score on the power play but did build some momentum that carried over into their even strength play.  That carry over continued for several minutes with the ice fairly tilted in the Bulls’ favor.

That ended with a high-sticking penalty to Bulls’ defenseman Rob Kwiet during a brief rush from Stockton into the Bulls’ zone.  The Bulls ended the period on the penalty kill, and would have 47 seconds left to kill to start the second.  The teams were even on the shot clock with seven apiece.

The Bulls killed the remainder of the penalty off, with the game still scoreless.  Matching roughing penalties to Jordan Morrison and Teigan Zahn put the teams back to four on four at 6:25 of the second.  A missed hip check by Scott Langdon at the Bulls’ blue line left Stockton with plenty of time and space to shoot.  Heemskerk stopped the first shot but the rebound was picked up by Eric Hunter for the first goal of the game.  Assists went to Shawn Weller and Ryan Constant.

An interference call on Stockton put the Bulls on the power play at 12:10. They had only two shots on goal with the man advantage.  Matching roughing calls to Mikael Tam and Maxime Boisclaire put the teams at four on four again, but a tripping penalty to Morrison turned that into a four on three for Stockton just 12 seconds later.

The Bulls killed off most of the penalty but Stockton finally found an opening and scored their second of the game with 1:10 left in the period.

It was Pucks and Paws Day at the Cow Palace, so a sizable parade of dogs and their people on the ice provided a nice distraction during intermission.  The dogs didn’t seem to have any trouble walking on the ice, proving that four legs really are better than two, if walking is what you need to do.

The Bulls didn’t dawdle to start the third. They began with a relentless attack but had to spend a lot of energy fending off the Stockton defense.  Kept to the outside as they were, the Bulls still managed six shots in the first five minutes, spending very little time at their own end.

Still the continued without a goal, and the Thunder started to push back.  Approaching the middle of the period, Jordan Morrison carried the puck through the neutral zone with Sebastian Trudeau.  Morrison took a hard shot at the Stockton net,  possibly hoping for a rebound that Trudeau could pick up.  Instead, the puck went in and got the Bulls on the board.  Assists went to Rob Kwiet and Mikael Tam.

A penalty for delay of game on Stockton followed seconds later to put the Bulls on the power play.  That didn’t get organized and the power play didn’t register a shot on goal. In the course of the man advantage, Alex Tuckerman went down bleeding and had to leave the game.

Tuckerman’s absence made room for Colin Reddin, the tenth forward who had spent the game on the bench.  He made a good start with a tenacious push through the neutral zone and across the Stockton blue line.  That was the last offensive push the Bulls would make for several shifts.  Stockton kept the Bulls’ defense busy, killing time.

Finally the Bulls pushed back, and they were in the middle of an impressive last minute push when a whistle interrupted them.  Whatever the whistle was for, no penalty was called, but it put the Bulls back at center ice for the face off.  The Bulls couldn’t get their attack going again and Stockton’s Ryan Constant was able to break out and score on the empty net, with an assist going to Garet Hunt.

In the last three seconds of the game, Dean Ouellet was given a game misconduct for abuse of officials.

Final score: 3-1 Stockton Thunder

Stockton Thunder goals were scored by Eric Hunter (Weller, Constant),  Brandon Davidson (PPG Matt Reber), and Ryan Constant (EN Hunt).  Tyler Bunz made 26 saves for the win.

San Francisco Bulls goal was scored by Jordan Morrison (Kwiet, Tam).  Thomas Heemskerk made 26 saves for the Bulls.

The Bulls next game is Friday in Idaho against the Steelheads at 7:10 MST/6:10 PST.

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A surprising result out of Bakersfield has put some pressure on the Bulls in the standings.  The Colorado Eagles were defeated in back to back games by the Condors on Friday and Saturday.  Improbable as it seemed even a week ago, Bakersfield is in a position to make a push for the playoffs by bumping San Francisco out of the eighth spot.  Bakersfield only trails the Bulls by six points now.

Kris Belan has made it clear over the last several games that he is a player the team would rather keep out of the penalty box.  He shows good instincts for rushing the net and has a knack for catching the opposition off guard for breakaways. With Belan’s strong skating, he and Hans Benson created some good chances during the third period of Sunday’s game.

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Ex-Bulls forward and SJ Sharks prospect Marek Viedensky played his third game since being recalled to the Worcester Sharks.

Also on Sunday, ex-Bulls defenseman Sacha Guimond played his fourth game with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL.  This is his second call-up since his last game with the Bulls, who traded his rights to Gwinnett while he was playing for the Worcester Sharks of the AHL.

Andrew Crescenzi, who played 23 games for the Bulls, and Jamie Devane, who played 12, have each played four games with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.

(Originally published at Inside Hockey)

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