(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.
The Bulls followed up with a strong road win against the Stockton Thunder on Monday. The Thunder were 6-2-0 this season, and their special teams have been very successful. Despite giving up a power play goal early, the Bulls rallied to a 3-2 regulation win, including two power play goals against the third ranked penalty kill in the league. Bulls goals were scored by Chris Crane, Dean Ouellet and Mark Lee, a perfect balance of old and new names on the scoreboard.
Over the course of those two games, the Bulls lost two of their most promising shooters: Dale Mitchell to injury and Riley Brace to a recall by the Worcester Sharks. The team didn’t seem to miss a step, as goals followed shots by a fast improving team.
After the home opener, Riley Emmerson talked about his first home game as one of the Bulls:
It’s definitely a great atmosphere here. Everyone says there’s a lot of rowdy fans and we definitely feed off the energy and it’s nice for us to get back on the winning track. We just have to keep this thing rolling and just get better one game at a time.
Emmerson, an ECHL veteran, was familiar with several of his teammates from seasons past. Two had been teammates before. Jordan Morrison was on the same Texas Wildcatters team as Emerson, though Morrison only joined the team at the end of the season:
It’s been seven or eight years since we played together but I was in Stockton, he was in Ontario, we played against each other so we’re really familiar with each other. He’s just such a great heads up player, he’s one of the best two way players in the league … he’s a great centerman so it’s fun to play with him and Belan out there. It’s great when we get out there on the forecheck. As long as I’m not taking penalties, we’re good.
Emmerson played with Kris Belan in 2011-12 for the Toledo Walleye:
He came after his college career and played. We didn’t have a very good team but that’s where [Belan] made a name for himself, showed that he could play in the league and I think he… won’t be here very long, he’ll be up in the American League pretty quick.
Whether they knew each other before or not, the Bulls know each other pretty well after that road trip. It is showing on the ice. Head Coach Pat Curcio talked about the team’s improving two-way play Friday night:
Our five on five game has been real good. Even on the road, other than a couple of games where we gave up a few goals, the majority of the momentum was taken because of our pk. Tonight our pk was good and our five on five play was good. I think this team, if we can get our power play a little more effective, we’re going to score more goals and give us a little more breathing room out there.
The coaching staff has been particularly eager to see their players shoot more often, and more quickly. In Friday’s game, defenseman Kyle Bigos added some material to that lesson, when he scored his first pro goal with a very quick shot from the blue line:
They don’t need to set it up on a tee, because guys’ll get out in the lanes.You need to get it away as quick as you can, and to watch him do that tonight and to get rewarded for it, it makes it a lot easier for us to preach now. Now we can just say “you see what happens when you do that?” I was real happy to see that go in.
He did it again Monday, as it was his shot that Chris Crane deflected in. The lesson is clearly sinking in.
The one piece of the puzzle that has been consistent from the start is goaltender Tyler Beskorowany. He has shown that he can stop pucks, but Curcio points to other contributions he has made:
The way he plays the puck, and he’s communicating with the defensemen, that goes without saying. It’s so important to talk…
… In the last game he was on the bench and I missed something, I was talking to a player and I looked down and he knew what I was looking for and right away he spoke up and said “yeah that was so and so’s guy, this is what happened. You know, you can’t replace that, it’s almost like having another coach out there. He’s special, you know we’re lucky to have him and I don’t want to make his head too big because he’s got to work hard to conquer this level and then go to the next…
The Bulls have scored enough goals to win a few games, but they will need to score more and more frequently. With Peter Sivak, one of their scoring leaders from last season, tearing it up as an Alaska Ace, where will these goals come from?
The team’s current scoring leader is Mark Lee with eight points. Just behind him with six points is Dale Mitchell, now sidelined by injury. Tied for third with four points each are Dean Ouellet and newcomer Chris Crane. Crane has three of those points in his last four games, two in the last game alone. His stock seems to be rising.
Dale Mitchell left Friday’s game with a back injury. He could be out for a little while or a long one. Curcio is hopeful that it will not be long before he is back out there winning races and crashing the net:
You see Dale is one of our best players, you see the speed. He could have scored three goals tonight. The guy is something special. He needs to just keep doing what he’s doing, he’s going to score a lot of goals.
The Bulls have lost some skilled players already, but they started with more this season than last. If they stick to their system, goals could come from any of them:
When I talk about discipline, it’s [not] just penalties. It’s about playing the right way. We’re not going to beat guys one on three, you’re not going to beat guys at the blue line, you’re not going to beat guys at center. If you watch the NHL, the reason those guys are there it’s because they do the right things all the time. These guys try to take chances at times but if you do things consistently the right way, that’s going to give us the best chance.
Ryan McDonough is listed as “week to week,” so he should not be expected back soon.
The Bulls’ next game will be at home Friday, November 15, at 7:30 pm against the Idaho Steelheads. If you can’t make it to the Cow Palace, listen on KNBR.com or watch on AmericaOneSports.com. Ticket information can be found on the Bulls’ website.