(Originally published at Inside Hockey)
Monday afternoon the San Francisco Bulls announced that they would cease operations immediately. They only played 40 games of their second season. The attendance reports are there on the ECHL site for anyone to see, like the catastrophic vitals of a terminal patient. The resounding silence of their marketing campaign, so boisterous last season, had been humming like a flatline tone since October. The surprise is not that the Bulls failed, but that they survived for so long in such a condition. On the ice, the team was stronger than before, but it didn’t show up in their final stats. That was a detail that only those who watched the games would know. Those viewers were too few, but as the link above shows, they were enthusiastic.
The team was 15-20-5 on the season, they were in eighth place in the West. The Bulls’ points leader was Dean Ouellet with 30 points. Their goals leader was Tyler Gron with 17, Dale Mitchell and Jordan Morrison had 11 each. The assists leaders were Dean Ouellet and Brett Findlay with 20 each. Steven Tarasuk lead in points for a defenseman with 15, Dylan King had 12 points. Tyler Beskorowany had a .899 save percentage with a GAA of 3.37. Captain Scott Langdon lead the team in penalty minutes with 100. Langdon, Kyle Bigos and Chris Crane played all 40 games.
Some of the players have already turned up on the ECHL transactions sheet. Defenseman Eriks Sevcenko signed with the Florida Everblades on Wednesday. The San Jose Sharks reassigned Sebastian Stalberg to the Ontario Reign, and reassigned goaltender J.P. Anderson and Chris Crane to Worcester. The Worcester Sharks also loaned Kyle Bigos, Riley Brace and Steven Tarasuk to the Los Angeles Kings affiliate. Tyler Gron is on an AHL contract with the Worcester Sharks, signed on January 6.
What none of that shows is the role the team played for so many people. Interns and rookies got a chance to do things for the first time, or do them more in the real bustle of professional sports. You learn to do nothing so well as you do by doing it, and better still in a hurry and on a tight budget. A lot of people saw live hockey who probably wouldn’t have a had a chance to do so. Fleeting as it was, many people had jobs for a time.
There are plenty of people who justifiably feel betrayed by the organizational failure. Some people didn’t need the experience or the detour in their professional paths. Of course, failure sucks. It is a good thing to avoid if at all possible. It is also a fairly regular occurrence in minor league sports. It is not surprising, therefore, that the team’s demise got more coverage than its life after birth ever did from the local sports media. Amid the recent flurry of simple announcements, one piece stands out to me, a thank you note from Peter Hartlaub at the SF Chronicle. I thank him for that, as I thank the Bulls for a valiant effort.
I was heartsick at the loss of the team, but I am so much more grateful than I am sorry. They gave me words and time and experience. That’s what I might have told them if there had been one last media scrum.
There was one of course, as usual, after that last home game I didn’t know was the last, at Curcio’s desk in the coaches’ office. We asked questions about the game, about the new player, standing with our backs to assistant coach Kyle Paige’s desk. A tv screen on the wall behind us showed some game or another on mute. Then we were huddled in the narrow, bright hallway, getting quotes from players in front of the black curtain that shielded the way to the dressing room and medical treatment room. The treatment room where we had conducted some interviews, with Morrison in the ice tub, or Beskorowany flat on his back on a table.
That black curtain was new this season, so the guys didn’t have to scamper back and forth from shower to locker room, in view of the press. We stood there, talking about the game, this goal, that momentum swing, the final comeback. All ending in “thank you” before the player disappeared behind the curtain again. That was it, the last media scrum for the San Francisco Bulls, just like any other.
Why would there be another one? What more is there to say? The Bulls are gone, leaving behind memories… and a whole lot of collectible fan gear.
I remember my first player interview, sitting on folding chairs with Jordan Morrison, in the dark Cow Palace tunnel after a practice. I asked poorly planned questions, then did an inadequate write up. Another time, writers stood in that tunnel doing post-game interviews while the players gathered with the Utah Grizzlies outside the dressing rooms. The Bulls were catching up with friends, getting ready to go out. Between questions, we studied the condition of Scott Langdon’s hands. He had fought that night.
In that first interview, Morrison described the recurrent theme in all this. He said that he went wherever the wind may carry him. I hope he lands well and prospers. I hope they all do, in Fresno or elsewhere.
It is a fine thing to know that what is born will thrive, that your team, win or lose, will be back next season to try again. That is an illusion, of course. Whether by little changes or massive upheavals, rebuilds or relocation, nothing stays the same. When the Bulls came to San Francisco, I had attended exactly one minor league hockey game. Now I have followed a team from the cradle to the grave.
What a whirlwind it was. I marvel at the chutzpah it takes to embark on such a venture. I sympathize with those who were disrupted, relocated and hurt by the failure. I know there was money lost, hopes were crushed, time and effort spent and gone. I feel slightly guilty saying only: thank you.