The San Francisco Bulls are back at the Cow Palace. Their first post-season run will resume on Thursday. They lost Game One last Friday to the Alaska Aces by a score of 5-1. They tied the series the next day by winning 1-0.
Kris Belan scored Friday’s goal short-handed. Kory Falite scored the game winner on Saturday, with assists to Brett Findlay and Dean Ouellet. Except for Falite’s, all of those points went to players in their first professional playoff series. Bulls goalie Thomas Heemskerk, who was replaced by Taylor Nelson during Friday’s loss, recorded a shutout in Saturday’s win. This is his first professional post-season too.
For a team that just wrapped up its first regular season, newness is hardly new, but these are the playoffs:
Playoff hockey is playoff hockey. Everyone knows it’s a long season, there’s ups and downs in the season. A little bit half way through the season the game steps up and things get going a little harder for the playoff push, but the playoffs is just another season completely…
It’s a completely different game. Everyone puts everything on the line, and you have to. It’s do or die so you’ve just got to be ready to play every night.
That was Bulls defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin describing playoff hockey. This is his second time in the ECHL playoffs. He played four playoff games his first season in the ECHL, after 13 regular season games with the Toledo Walleye. This time around is different for him, after being with the Bulls all season:
I feel like I have a lot more pride towards this hockey team, towards the players, I have a lot more will to win because I love these guys to death and I know that’s how all those guys feel in the locker room.. that’s why it’s extra special to be in the playoffs first of all, as a first year team. It really is for the guys that [you're] sitting beside in the locker room that you want to win games.
Jordan Morrison also jumped into playoffs in his first ECHL season, after just four regular season games with the Texas Wildcatters. This is his third time in the Kelly Cup Playoffs:
Playoffs don’t really change from league to league. It just gets a little bit more intense, little things that matter a lot more in pro than in junior… This time of year you learn to bear down and try to limit your mistakes and try to keep even-keel because you get to play potentially seven games [against the same team.] You just have to remember that every night it’s going to be a grind, and you [may get] another opportunity the next night.
Two players, Brett Findlay and Nick Czinder, made their professional debuts in San Francisco with just six games left in the regular season. Both played in the playoff games in Alaska as well. Asked what he needs to focus on as a new member of the team at this time of year, Findlay said:
I think for me, just keeping it simple. [Coach Curcio] stresses that we’re playing a skilled team, so for us we’ve got to keep it simple and kind of frustrate them. So for me I’ve just got to try and keep it simple, don’t turn pucks over and do whatever I can to help the team.
There are a number of Bulls players competing in a pro-league post-season for the first time. Some have been with the team for all or most of the season, some have just joined the team. Dean Ouellet and Kris Belan, recently back from AHL call-ups, are very familiar to the San Francisco audience. Defenseman Antoine Corbin played 30 AHL games with the Hamilton Bulldogs before joining the Bulls for the last six regular season games. Taylor Nelson, Dylan King, Christian Ouellet and Mikael Tam are all familiar to the Bulls’ audience by now. Like Dean Ouellet, Belan and Corbin, they are still listed as rookies.
Some of these players were thrown into the fire without much time to gel with the team. Still, they won Game Two by doing pretty much exactly what Findlay described: keeping it simple. That was an about-face from the rout that was Game One, the 5-1 loss to Alaska.
With some time before Game Three, the Bulls had some practice time and a chance to settle back in to a routine. Head Coach Pat Curcio described how the break would probably benefit both teams:
The travel was really tough, coming back, we need two days just to get back in the groove coming from [Alaska]. I think it will hopefully benefit both teams, I think.. make the game that much better on Thursday.
Thursday is the first of three games in three days. Any energy restored by the break after the games in Alaska will go fast.
Peter Sivak has returned to San Francisco from Worcester for the rest of the playoffs. With Sivak and Dean Ouellet on hand, the team has both of their leading scorers back in the lineup.
Tristan King sustained a head injury in Game Two and is listed as day to day. Curcio explained that he can’t know when to expect King back:
The hit was pretty bad, got him right in the jaw and knocked him out. Those kinds of things can go anywhere from two to three days to two to three weeks.
The team and its booster club, the Matadors, hosted a watch party at Park 77 in San Francisco for Games One and Two. Joining the party were the Cow Belles, Rawhide and Bulls forward Ian Schultz– on crutches. Schultz’s ankle was broken when he was hit by a shot in the final home game of the regular season.
Though America One Sports hasn’t failed to deliver games to my computer screen, it was certainly more entertaining to watch the road games on a big screen, in a bar, with a bunch of other people. For the win, there was even a St. Bernard in the crowd looking for snacks and hugs. That game was viewed outdoors, in the garden, so no codes were violated. The cheering for the one Bulls goal in Game One was possibly as enthusiastic as the cheers for the goal that gave the Bulls a lead in Game Two. Obviously, the cheers lasted much longer when the Bulls won.
Thursday’s, Friday’s and Saturday’s games all start at 7:15 PDT. Tickets to all games are available now. Visit the SF Bulls’ website for more information.