(Originally published at Inside Hockey)
The San Francisco Bulls have won two of their last three games, after losing two of three to the Aces. They won at home against the third place Colorado Eagles, and on the road against their nearby rivals and last season’s Western Conference Champions, the Stockton Thunder. In between those wins, they lost on the road to the Bakersfield Condors, who are tied with the Bulls in points but have three games in hand on San Francisco.
The Bulls have been making good comebacks but haven’t played much with a lead this season. This is something the team wants to address, as head coach Pat Curcio explained after Wednesday’s win:
We’re real tired of chasing teams all the time. We need to try to get out, especially in our rink when we got home ice advantage and last change, to get out to an early lead and let teams chase us.
Even though the team did grab the early lead Wednesday, they fell behind again in the second period. Riley Brace says that the team doesn’t panic when they fall behind, as they did on Wednesday:
In my short time here I’ve realized that there’s big momentum swings with this team and when we play against other teams and we just got to stay calm… When other teams come back on us like that, we know we have the firepower to score off the rush. We have a pretty good offensive team when we get going.
The Bulls started the second period with a 2-0 lead, but gave up three goals in the second period before Jordan Morrison scored to tie it up at 19:45 of the period. Of that last-second goal, Curcio said:
It changed the whole game. I think Mo’s the first guy to admit, their line on that last goal they gave up, the third, was something they weren’t too happy about. But they made up for it.
The teams were tied 4-4 by the end of regulation, and the Bulls went on to win 5-4 in overtime. Goals came from Ryan Garlock, Luke Judson, Jordan Morrison, Riley Brace and Dale Mitchell. The Bulls’ power play scored twice in four opportunities, including the overtime winner. Their penalty kill gave up one goal to Colorado’s two power plays.
His goal in that game was Brace’s first with the Bulls. He has only played eight games in his two stints with San Francisco this season. He also has four assists in those games, so he clearly isn’t having trouble communicating with the Bulls.
Just before Ryan Flanigan took the faceoff before Brace scored that goal, he skated by and appeared to say something to Flanigan. I asked if they were setting up a play there. Brace said not exactly:
I just kinda told him to watch the guy going forward ‘cuz it looked like he switched his hands on his stick and was going to try to walk around him. So I just gave Flanny the heads up that that’s what was probably going to happen. It turned out that’s what happened and we countered it and went the other way.
It is strange that in a week when the Bulls were clicking well enough to beat teams ahead of them in the standings, they fell to the Bakersfield Condors on Friday. That loss let the Condors jump over the Bulls in the standings, on the basis of games played.
The Bulls took a first period lead against the Condors, but gave it up in the second and couldn’t get it back. Bakersfield scored three unanswered goals in the second period, and neither team scored in the third. The Bulls’ penalty kill gave up one goal on three penalties, and their power play couldn’t score on two chances. Goals were scored by Brett Findlay and Dean Ouellet, with Beskorowany making 25 saves on 29 shots. The Bulls lost the shot clock race by a slight margin, 29-27.
The Bulls followed that up with a very aggressive game in Stockton on Sunday. The game started with a mid-first period goal from Stockton, followed by a fight between Kyle Bigos and Stockton’s Alex MacLeod. MacLeod had just delivered a check to the head on Luke Judson. MacLeod was given a match penalty.
The Bulls outshot the Thunder by 45-32, and the Bulls tied the game twice to push it to overtime. Bulls goals were scored by Jordan Morrison (with assists to Mitchell and Ouellet) and Sebastian Stalberg (assists to Bigos and Sevcenko). The Bulls survived an overtime penalty to prevail in a shootout. Each team successfully killed 4 penalties.
After Sunday’s shootout win, the Bulls are now 4-1 in shootouts. That record is the third best in the ECHL, and the best in the Western Conference. Bulls’ goaltender Tyler Beskorowany has certainly helped that stat, but the team’s shooters have to get some credit too.
Last Tuesday, the Bulls added to their arsenal by acquiring Ryan Garlock from Bakersfield. Garlock has played 321 games in the AHL, and only 82 ECHL games. In those 82 games he now has 87 points. Bakersfield probably would have preferred not to trade him to San Francisco, but they found themselves in a bind:
We have a rule in this league that you’re only allowed four veterans and Bakersfield had six and someone has to go. One guy broke his hand so they couldn’t trade him so they had to move one and we were fortunate to be able to pick him up.
We haven’t had a player of his caliber here yet… If you look at his points per game in our league, there’s not a player … that has ever played for us that has done what he’s done.
Garlock introduced himself to San Francisco by scoring the first goal of the game Wednesday, after driving up from Bakersfield the day before.
On December 27, someone who looked like he might be a hockey player was seen in the press box. Unable to put a name to the face, or account for him doing a quick head count, I asked Curcio about him after the game. Curcio said only: “He’s just a ghost right now, that’s all I can say.”
Evidently the contract details had not yet been ironed out between the Bulls and Latvian defenseman Eriks Sevcenko. He has played nine games with the team now, has one goal and four assists. He earned three of those points, including the goal, in his first game.
His arrival eased the departure of Collin Bowman, who was traded to Bakersfield for Garlock. Technically, Bowan was recalled to the AHL by Worcester and then reassigned to Bakersfield. The end result was the same, with the Bulls losing a defenseman and gaining a veteran forward.
In Sunday’s matinee at Stockton, Bulls forward Luke Judson left the game after the hit from Alex MacLeod. He did not return to the game. Judson had a fight in the Bakersfield game two nights before, he has four goals this season, and has been getting more scoring chances. He also played defense in a game back on December 21, when the team was short a few players. The team doesn’t play again until January 30, so hopefully he will have time to recover.
Dean Ouellet has taken over the position of points leader for the team, followed closely by Brett Findlay, Jordan Morrison and Dale Mitchell.
Tyler Gron and Adrian Foster are still at the top of the list but are with the AHL right now. Gron has played five games with the Worcester Sharks, has one goal, two penalty minutes and is a +2. Foster has played five games with the Abbotsford Heat since being called up. He has one assist, two penalty minutes and is even in plus/minus.
The Bulls next play at home against the Stockton Thunder, on January 30. Game time is 7:30. Get to the Cow Palace, listen on KNBR.com or watch on AmericaOneSports.com. Ticket information can be found on the Bulls’ website.