Bulls Off The Schneid, Beat Condors 5-1

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SF Bulls’ Forward Rob Linsmayer

(Originally published at Inside Hockey)

Going into Bakersfield Tuesday night, the San Francisco Bulls not only needed a win, they badly needed a goal. After being shut out in back to back home games to cap off six losses in a row, the Bulls were having trouble explaining their troubles. At the start of the season, maybe they weren’t shooting enough. By the fifth loss in this latest losing streak, they were certainly shooting enough. Tuesday, their shots finally started to hit the mark, five times in all. The Bakersfield Condors were the unlucky targets of the Bulls’ vengeful scoring binge. Is one win and some roster moves enough to turn the tide for the Bulls? Time will tell, but San Francisco really had nowhere to go but up. Continue reading

A Moving Target: Survival in the Minors

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(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

SAN FRANCISCO- You have to approach an ECHL game like there is no tomorrow. As a player, you could be injured out and never play again. Tonight. As a fan, your favorite player could be moved without any warning rumors at all, your significant other who you just followed across the country could be traded again, before you’ve even finished unpacking.

Minor leagues demand a “pack light” mentality, like hitching cross-country: you move a great deal but your feet rarely leave the earth. It is bracing, fleeting, unpredictable and mostly without a safety net.

There are things like teddy bear tosses and Chuck-a-Puck, activities that depend on everyone being pretty darn close to the ice.

The roster will change at a rapid-fire pace that can frustrate a fan who wants to get attached to this or that player. The team will be open with the press about injuries, because hey, anyone watching the game saw what happened. The players make appearances at public places to sign autographs, instead of donor dinners.

While many teams make an effort to put some glitz into the show, you don’t go to a minor league hockey game for the bright  splashy spectacle. You are there for the same reason the players and the coaches are there: you all like hockey.

BF-BeskoFFjerseyThe players don’t get paid enviable amounts of money. You can’t yell at them that they’re a drag on the team’s cap space. If you get mad it’s just over the principle of the thing, he made a dumb decision or took a selfish penalty. But when you throw eggs, you’re not throwing very high up the ladder. They don’t park their cars in hidden garages or come and go from the arena through a secured parking lot. They have their private space but it isn’t so very far away from you that you expect to see guys with earpieces following them around. They are just guys playing because they love the game.

Some might have hopes for bigger things, a call up, an NHL contract. But right now, in this game, that aspiration is just a gamble. They are here, now. All there is is today’s game.

Many tomorrows from now, they could still be here, in the ECHL or the AHL, grinding out a living with their bodies and their skill and their attachment to the game. Some have degrees and plans for when it is over, others might not. All here, now, for your entertainment and a shared love of a sport, ice, speed and team.

As investments, sports at any level are a gamble, but minor league teams are notorious for existing on the edge of extinction. As hair raising as that is for management and owners, it is the stuff of great stories. The blood of the underdog runs through the veins of such teams, through the leagues even. From top to bottom, survival is a question, not something anyone takes for granted.

In the bigger markets, fans can become more fierce and demanding but it is still about the game, not some multimillion dollar contract paid to an unworthy player. There is one point of envy a fan might take away, and that is loving what you do. Surely players get sick of riding buses around for days on end, or being in physical pain year round, having to move cross-country at the drop of a hat. Many people do all that without getting to play hockey or do anything at all that they enjoy. Still, this type of compensation is pretty discreet. It doesn’t blind you like sunlight reflected off the tinted windshield of a new luxury car.

That is why movies like the minors so much. Everything about them is suspenseful. The players take all the risks and reap only a tiny share of the rewards that a big league player does. Whether an arena is packed or sparsely attended, a minor league game is a moving thing. Particularly in the Western U.S., where hockey is still scrambling for a share of the sports fanbase, an ECHL game is unpretentious and sincere in a way that no major league game could ever be. No one is there for the spectacle, they are there for the hockey, the pure, unrefined kind. No replays, no repeats, just this game now.

The Next Bigos Thing

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(Originally published at Inside Hockey)

It is difficult not to notice a very large man with the word “big” in his name, but defenseman Kyle Bigos bears watching for more than that. The Upland, CA native has made visible progress in just ten games with the San Francisco Bulls. Head Coach Pat Curcio sees promise in him:

He’s come a long way, he’s still got a long way to go but I think that he’s working hard every day and that’s going to help, [bodes] well for him. I think that a good year down here will give him an opportunity to make the American League next year and then he can go from there.

From Bigos’ first games with the team, he stood out, and not only for being very tall. He was noticeable for playing a solid defensive game. He has since added a few tricks to his routine, like shooting a whole big lot from the blue line. As a result, he has a goal and an assist in his last two games.

Last July, the San Jose Sharks traded Lee Moffie to the Edmonton Oilers for Bigos. After training camp in San Jose and then Worcester, Bigos was assigned to the San Francisco Bulls.

Like many of the Bulls, Bigos is making the adjustment from college hockey to the professional game this season. It is a significant gap for Bigos to bridge, as Curcio explains:

I think … playing more games is the least of his concerns.The game is faster, the game is stronger, you’re playing against men instead of older teenagers. You can’t get away with the things you could get away with in college, that’s for sure. It’s night and day. The physicality of it, you’re not playing with a cage, there’s so much, there’s so much.

Bigos has noticed those differences:

It was frustrating at first. Not really as a young player but as a first year in pros, it’s a transition from college. [I] did my best, there were some bumps in the road. The organization, the coaches and players really help me along.

The most conspicuous addition to Bigos’ game since the start of the season is an increase in shots taken. The whole team is shooting more, so this improvement isn’t too surprising. But as a blue liner, his shots can make a big difference, especially for the power play. Bigos attributes the shots on net to an adjustment to his game in general:

Once you figure the position, you move your feet a little bit more, shoot quicker, you can find lanes, so better for me and the team.

Hockey’s Future said this about Bigos in his NCAA career:

Mean, nasty, and fierce in defense of his teammates. Bigos is a mountain of a man and knows how to use his size to his advantage. Speed and quickness are an issue as they are with many men of his size, however his solid positioning helps him compensate for both.

The positioning mentioned was evident even in early games with the Bulls. Either his speed has improved or Bigos is compensating even better, because you don’t see him on the wrong end of a lot of footraces.

Perhaps the next thing we’ll see is more of that mean, nasty fierceness.  We saw some of that in Colorado on November 2, when he racked up 17 penalty minutes and a game misconduct. Since the Bulls lost that game 4-1, probably keeping the penalty minutes down is a better plan.

Curcio commented last Friday that while Bigos has some growing to do, he could be worth the wait:

Watching him tonight and watching him the last couple games, he’s getting better. And some… you know these scouts have been around 40 years, they don’t necessarily make mistakes. They see something, and we’re starting to see what they see…

Whatever the next Bigos thing is, Bulls fans should look forward to seeing it.

(Originally published at Inside Hockey)

Home at Last, Bulls Win Two In a Row

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(Originally published at Inside Hockey)

The San Francisco Bulls finally came home to the Cow Palace last Friday, and won their home opener against the Bakersfield Condors 2-1. It wasn’t clear which the team needed more, a third win on the season or a home game. Opening night brought Dean Ouellet’s first goal of the season, and Kyle Bigos picked up his first pro goal as the game winner. That game was a confidence booster, though played against a team that had yet to win this season. Continue reading

SF Bulls End Road Trip 2-5-1

The San Francisco Bulls finished their season-opening road trip with a 2-0 loss to the Ontario Reign. The two goals were scored by rookie Zach O’Brien and Dan DaSilva, previously of the Worcester Sharks. It was O’Brien’s first pro goal and DaSilva’s was into an empty net.

Ironically, the Wednesday game was one of the Bulls’ better showings of the season. From what Bulls Alternate Captain Jordan Morrison said during the intermission report,  the team was probably up for a game against a team they never beat on the road last season:

It’s a new season, first game against these guys this year, obviously we both have new squads. I think we’re going to just go out there and test the waters tonight, see what each team is about, and hopefully start the year off on the right foot. I know it was difficult here last year, they had a great season, great team last year, but like I said it’s a new year. Continue reading