Going into Bakersfield Tuesday night, the San Francisco Bulls not only needed a win, they badly needed a goal. After being shut out in back to back home games to cap off six losses in a row, the Bulls were having trouble explaining their troubles. At the start of the season, maybe they weren’t shooting enough. By the fifth loss in this latest losing streak, they were certainly shooting enough. Tuesday, their shots finally started to hit the mark, five times in all. The Bakersfield Condors were the unlucky targets of the Bulls’ vengeful scoring binge. Is one win and some roster moves enough to turn the tide for the Bulls? Time will tell, but San Francisco really had nowhere to go but up.
The losing streak started innocuously enough on November 15, with a 4-3 shootout loss to Idaho at the Cow Palace. After that game, the Bulls outshot all of their opponents, with the smallest margin being four shots and the largest 18. Still the losses got worse and worse until a 3-0 loss was an improvement since the game before that ended 6-0. The Bulls’ power play produced only two goals in 30 tries over that six game stretch. Their penalty kill was leaky, giving up five goals over 21 kills. The opposing net seemed shielded. It was maddening for the players and coach alike. The team’s offense had been gravely reduced by injuries to Mark Lee, Dale Mitchell and Ryan McDonough. It could be a long wait for those players to return.
Bulls President and Head Coach Pat Curcio wasn’t going to wait. The Bulls announced three additions to the team on Monday. One of the players he acquired, in exchange for defenseman Damon Kipp, was forward Tyler Gron. For those who have followed the Bulls, Gron’s name should be familiar since the Bulls faced him quite a bit last season and this one, playing for the Idaho Steelheads. In five games last season, Gron scored five goals and had two assists against San Francisco, but he had not scored against the Bulls this season. Interestingly, his only three goals before Tuesday were against the Alaska Aces and the Stockton Thunder, two of the best teams in the west right now. His lone assist was against the Ontario Reign, which means he had only earned points against the three best western teams. Now he has three more points.
Gron made his debut Tuesday night in Bakersfield. After a period of noteworthy play including several hits, good chances, and an assist on Dean Ouellet’s opening goal, he scored his own goal on a very unexpected breakaway. While the Bulls were grateful to get the puck cleared after a harrowing spell in their own zone, Gron took the puck through the neutral zone and gave the team a 2-1 lead. The goal was emblematic: it demonstrated what one last, unexpected push could accomplish. The Bulls took off from there.
Nothing after that seemed to phase the Bulls. They did not outshoot the Condors as they had been outshooting opponents lately, but their penalty kill, their four-on-four play, their even strength play were all rejuvenated. In the end the Bulls’ goals came from some familiar sources: one from Dean Ouellet, one from Dylan King, one from Brett Findlay and two from Tyler Gron. Eight players in all came away with a point for the Bulls. Three earned two points: Brett Findlay, Dean Ouellet and Dylan King.
Tyler Gron became the first Bull to earn three points in a game this season. He is without a doubt a good addition to the roster. That it took Curcio a while to make a move is not surprising. His team was playing hard, they were shooting like crazy, but neither the rookies nor the veterans could seem to hit the target at the right time. As the Bakersfield game showed, the team did have players capable of scoring, and they still do. Every single Bulls player looked better Tuesday. Tyler Beskorowany’s lone mistake, a failed clear that left the net open for Bakersfield’s Chris Collins, was outweighed by his 27 saves.
Curcio added two players in addition to Gron before the Bakersfield game. The Bulls signed former New Jersey Devils first-round draft pick forward Adrian Foster. He earned an assist on Ouellet’s goal Tuesday. New defenseman Kalvin Sagert finished a +1. Riley Emmerson was waived as part of the moves.
The win bumped the Bulls ahead of the Las Vegas Wranglers in the standings, and tied them with the Utah Grizzlies, though Utah has played three fewer games than the Bulls have.
The Bulls will face the Condors again Wednesday, at the Cow Palace. Maybe they can bring some of this energy home. It would certainly be a nice holiday gesture to give Bulls fans a win to be thankful for.
Puck drop on Wednesday will be at 7:30 pm PST. Get to the Cow Palace for Pat Curcio Bobblehead Night, listen on KNBR.com or watch on AmericaOneSports.com. Ticket information can be found on the Bulls’ website.
For all the stats on Tuesday’s game, visit the game summary at the ECHL website.