Wednesday, the Bulls played their first game at home since February 17. Thomas Heemskerk described some of the simple benefits of being back in San Francisco:
Being on the road gets old after about two or three days. Nice to get home, get some groceries, get some normal food, a normal bed again. It’s nice to be back playing at home.
The Bulls’ homecoming was marred by a 2-1 loss to the Alaska Aces, but it could have been much worse. The Aces are at the top of the ECHL standings, with a six point lead over the second place team. Of the Alaskan team, Bulls’ Head Coach Pat Curcio said:
If you play well, it’ll be a one-goal game with this team. If you don’t play well, you’ll be down four or five nothing before you can blink an eye.
The first time the Bulls and the Aces met was in Alaska, last October. The home team swept the three game series, 4-1, 5-2 and 3-2. The second time the teams met, the Bulls came away with two wins out of three games. That was in Alaska as well. This was the first time the teams would meet on small ice. The Aces’ home ice is an Olympic sized rink, significantly larger than standard North American hockey rinks.
This was the first trip to San Francisco and the Cow Palace for the Aces:
Chris Clackson @chrisclackson17: “Aces are on our way to San Francisco. Never been but excited to check out the city by the bay. #frisco”
Also new to the Cow Palace were six players added to the team since they last played at home: Tristan King, Yanni Gourde, Bryan Cameron, Ian Schultz, Kory Falite, and Mark Isherwood. This was bound to put a kink in the home ice advantage for the Bulls, since it hadn’t been home for so many until now.
The teams made it through the first 17:48 before Alaska opened the scoring. Alex Hudson put the puck under Thomas Heemskerk’s arm. Until that point, the teams had been fairly even in shots and zone time. Between the time of that goal and the end of the period, the Aces jumped ahead for a 22-10 lead in shots.
Two minutes after the goal, the Bulls were on the penalty kill, and would start the second period short handed. The Bulls killed that off, with a short-handed rush near the end of the penalty kill. Still down by one, the Bulls pressed hard but the Aces demonstrated why they are at the top of the league. Mark Guggenberger, the Aces’ goalie, was very efficient. Anything he didn’t catch, his defense swept away cleanly.
San Francisco got their first power play at 10:15 of the second period, a hooking call to Alaska’s Jordan Kremyr. The Bulls’ power play could barely gain the zone, and they couldn’t stay long when they did. It was their least effective power play of the game. Working new players into the lineup was hard to do with only one morning skate that included the whole team. Curcio acknowledged that adding them to the special teams was tricky, but it wasn’t the only problem with the power play:
I haven’t found the right units yet but I think we will… We talked about it after the first period. That’s where we need to find our synergy, with guys that didn’t know each other. But we lost puck battles and when you lose puck battles, it gets cleared two hundred feet and then you’re starting from scratch.
Subsequent Bulls’ power plays were much more controlled, though they never did score. The first power play had been over for several minutes when Yanni Gourde took the puck to the net and poked it in the far side to tie the game.
The Bulls started the third with a pile up in front of the Alaska net and a go-ahead goal being waved off. The referee nixed the goal on the basis of a player being in the crease.
San Francisco took a too many men penalty at 5:01 of the period. During the penalty kill, Gourde killed some time skating around with the puck through all three zones while Aces chased him. By the time Bulls’ defenseman Rob Kwiet got the puck, his efficient clear down the ice seemed anti-climactic, but it got the job done and allowed the team to get some changes.
Having failed to score on another power play, the Aces hemmed the Bulls into the defensive zone for a long shift. The Bulls seemed to be out of the woods when a turnover by Jordan Morrison at the Bulls’ blue line coincided with a communication lapse on defense. Two Aces got behind the Bull’s defense and scored the go ahead goal at 9:14.
At the time of that goal, the shot clock read 42-23 Idaho. It was no wonder Alaska was winning, though probably by a smaller margin than they should have been. Much of that could be attributed to a very strong game from the Bulls’ goalie. After the game, Curcio gave Heemskerk credit:
Heemer had a great night. He’s going to make it a real difficult decision here [when we decide who will start] Friday. We need to find a goalie that’s winning and sometimes it doesn’t even matter how many saves you make, it’s just the karma that you bring. He’s played great, we need to score more than one goal.
The Bulls never evened it up, but Curcio wasn’t too disappointed:
I thought we out-chanced them…We need to play that way and be a little better, and a little hungrier around the net.
The Bulls finished the night still eighth in the West, five points behind the Utah Grizzlies, and eight points ahead of the Bakersfield Condors.
The team will need time to incorporate the new players. The ECHL trade deadline passed Thursday at noon. Heemskerk explained Wednesday night that the team was ready for trade season to be over:
We’ve done some good trades, we’ve lost some friends but I think as a team we’ve improved in some areas that needed a look. It’s exciting when you bring in the talent we did. Hopefully this can be the end of all the trade action, and we can start to bond and gel. It takes time for players to learn each other.
Peter Sivak, the Bulls’ leading goal-scorer, also felt that the team would know better what the new players can bring, once they get used to each other. It will take time to see where everyone fits in the group and the system.
There will be two more to work in, one new player and one familiar face. Kris Belan is expected to return from the the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs next week. Today, the Bulls completed the trade with Gwinnett that sent Justin Bowers and Sacha Guimond to the Gladiators. The Bulls acquired forward Nick Walsh:
@SFBulls: #SFBulls acquire forward Nick Walsh from Gwinnett, completing a deal from Jan. No further players sent to Gwinnett
Scoring and saves:
Alaska: Alex Hudson(10)(Zach Harrison, Jordan Kremyr), Chris Clackson(14)(Nick Mazzolini, Spencer Bennett). Mark Guggenberger made 30 saves for the win.
San Francisco: Yanni Gourde(2)(Bryan Cameron, Tristan King). Thomas Heemskerk made 43 saves for the Bulls. The Bulls’ power play went 0/4, their penalty kill was 2/2.
(Originally published at Inside Hockey)