Bulls Dig Deep, Find New Mettle


(Originally published at Inside Hockey)

The San Francisco Bulls started a six-game homestand last weekend, with two games against the top two teams in the ECHL’s Pacific Division. The Bulls lost the first to Ontario 4-1, and won the second against Stockton in a shootout 6-5. The loss was a big let down after the team had competed so effectively against Ontario the weekend before.

The shootout victory was a relief, and required an improbable comeback from a three-goal deficit. It was also the team’s Teddy Bear Toss night, which guaranteed a very hopeful and enthusiastic audience worth playing for.  Last season, the team barely escaped a post-game toss by scoring once in the third period of a 5-1 loss.

Of Saturday’s win, Bulls Head Coach Pat Curcio said:

I think our fans had a lot to do with it, it just gives our guys so much more energy and life out there. I thought in the second period, a couple of the mistakes that we made, it [was] unfair for us to be down 3-1. Obviously Scott Langdon got us on the board there, gave us some life and the guys just thought “if they scored three that quick, we can score three that quick.”

That represented a significant mental reset from the night before, when the Bulls hosted the Ontario Reign. The weekend before that, the Bulls played twice against the Reign, winning one and losing one in overtime. The Reign are currently in first place in the Western Conference. In the 4-1 loss Friday, San Francisco’s power play went 0-8, and their penalty kill finished 3-6.

It was a disappointing game, especially as their first game back from a road trip that should have boosted their confidence. In response to what he saw in Friday’s loss, Curcio decided to keep the next morning’s practice simple and short:

We spent a lot of time this morning working on going D to D and getting pucks to the net. After we watched the game we thought we were lacking in that area. That’s all we did. I think we were on the ice twenty minutes. I think [the players] were shocked that the only thing we did was work on the power play as a whole team.

Curcio opted to start J.P. Anderson Saturday against the Stockton Thunder. As the second of back to back games, it was a logical choice, since Tyler Beskorowany had played the night before. It was also a return to the scene of a very poor last meeting with the Thunder. On November 20 in Stockton, the Bulls fell 5-1 and sent Beskorowany in to relieve Anderson in the middle of the second period. Did that loss have something to do with why Curcio opted to start Anderson on Saturday?

It didn’t really but I did mention to him, I said “last game you started we had to get you out, let’s redeem yourself tonight and come back with a big win.” Unfortunately we had to pull him tonight but the good news is we got a win out of it.

After being tied at one at the end of the first period, the Bulls were down 4-1 late in the second when Curcio pulled Anderson. That was probably one factor that galvanized the team, but it wasn’t the only one. Captain Scott Langdon scored in the waning moments of the period, and the team came out for the third with renewed vigor.

Langdon attributed his team’s rough second period to a lack of focus and energy:

I think we just went for a little snooze in the second there, everybody was kind of sitting back and they were taking it to us. Some mistakes, me personally and some other guys. They capitalized on them. We weren’t trying not to score, you know what I mean? Finally, once that one went in we came into the locker room and said “we’re probably going to bag three more in this period” and we went out and did it.

If all he has to do is say it, shouldn’t he say it more often?

I have said it other games, we actually just did it tonight.

One of the players to score in the third period was Steven Tarasuk. He ended the night with two goals and an assist. They were his first goals of the season. Langdon observed that Tarasuk’s sudden scoring touch isn’t as unexpected as it might seem:

He’s a great addition to that blue line. He’s supposed to be like our offensive defenseman and for the most part we haven’t really seen it this year. What better time to come out of your shell, right? Happy for him that he got that monkey off his back, I know it is December but he did it, so we’re happy for him.

Tarasuk explained what the team had to do to recover from the terrible ten minutes, during which they had given up three goals:

I think the idea was just to stick to our game, make sure we were still getting pucks in, make sure we were still getting after their d-men obviously they like to jump, so I think just capitalizing on their mistakes was the biggest part.

Sticking to your game sounds like something that is easier said that done, when you are so far behind and the clock is ticking:

You really got to dig deep. I think as a team we really owed it to our fans. We only had the one win this year at home so I think it was really big for us to win especially on the teddy bear toss night. So I think moving forward everybody’s pretty positive and I think this is a good step towards getting a winning organization.

Saturday was forward Berkley Scott’s first game with the Bulls. The Bulls claimed him off waivers from the Utah Grizzlies last Thursday. Curcio was pleased with what he saw from Scott, and from a lot of players on Saturday, despite their early second period struggles:

I liked him a lot. I thought he worked really hard. I liked him last year. I wish I could have given him a little more ice tonight but the way the game went. Everyone I liked tonight, and it’s hard because you start to see that there’s positives… As long as we’re winning I guess we’re doing things right. I really liked what I saw but I’d like to give them a little more ice time, with Gimbatov and Scott and Craner and these guys I think there’s something there.

Another realtively recent arrival to the team is defenseman Kalvin Sagert. Saturday was his ninth game with the team. He is becoming increasingly noticeable for being in the right place at the right time. Curcio appreciates the way Sagert keeps things simple:

Sagert and [King], that style of defenseman is something I really like. They just keep it simple. And that’s what you have to keep it simple, move the puck and do the right things. All the time, it doesn’t have to be fancy. When you do that you have success. That’s the hardest thing in the game to teach the guys to keep the game simple and play the right way because they all want to make these highlight plays but it just doesn’t happen.

Brett Findlay, who joined the Bulls last season just before playoffs, has come a long way. Findlay is tied with Tyler Gron for the team lead in points. Of his contribution in Saturday’s game (a goal and an assist, and the shootout winner), he said:

It’s always nice to help out with the team, whatever it is. I felt like last night I didn’t have my best game so I tried to bounce back tonight, and fortunately I got a couple of bounces.

Findlay has been playing on a line with Gron and Jordan Morrison. Gron has been scoring at a furious pace since arriving. On playing with Gron, Findlay said:

He’s a great player, he’s got lots of speed. I think my passing goes well with his speed, and [Morrison]’s a veteran player in the middle so we seem to be clicking right now and hopefully we can keep it going.

The Bulls are still in sixth place in the Western Conference, and third in the Pacific Division. They are two points ahead of Las Vegas, and eight behind Stockton.

Going back to Langdon’s comment at the end of the previous homestand, when he described San Francisco and Bakersfield as “battling for the basement,” the Captain does think the Bulls should aim higher:

We’re better than that, I think we could be a top four team in this league. We beat Ontario in Ontario, we beat Vegas in Vegas. We beat all the teams that we know we can beat so we’ve just got to be consistent and do it every night. The naps we take in the second period, we’ve go to stop doing that. If we don’t take those naps I bet you we win a lot more games. I’m looking forward to winning more games here at home.

The Bulls will have three chances to win at home this coming weekend, with night games Friday and Saturday, and a matinee Sunday. All three games will be against the Colorado Eagles.

The Bulls have played the Eagles three times between October 30 and November 2. San Francisco lost all three games in Colorado, twice by a margin of three goals, once by four goals. Next weekend should be a good test of the Bulls’ new mettle.

Get to the Cow Palace this weekend, listen on KNBR.com or watch on AmericaOneSports.com. Ticket information can be found on the Bulls’ website.