The Idaho Steelheads have one of the best home win records in the ECHL. The Bulls have one of the worst road records. Tuesday’s game in Idaho ended as those figures would predict, and Wednesday didn’t start out much better. Idaho scored twice and outshot the Bulls by a significant margin through the most of the first period. Shaking off the bleak stats and ignoring bad omens, the Bulls charged forward to claim their first win of the road trip.
Final score: 6-3 San Francisco Bulls.
The game began with a fight between Bulls’ defenseman Dylan King and Steelheads’ forward Mike Towns. King ended up hitting the ice first.
It was Thomas Heemskerk’s second start since returning from surgery, and Idaho would keep him busy. An awful play in the defensive zone just after the faceoff sent the puck behind the net and then back over it, right into the path of Idaho’s Tyler Gron. Heemskerk saw it and faced the shooter but the hard shot squeaked through and bounced into the net.
The Bulls still didn’t have a shot on goal. They took a few shots after that. Sebastian Trudeau made his presence known, with some nice puck theft and quick one-timers. The Bulls offense came up empty. At 16:06 of the first, Idaho took a 2-0 lead. Matt Case slid behind a Bulls defenseman and had room to pass the puck through the slot to David de Kastrozza, who fired it past Heemskerk.
The Bulls pushed back 59 seconds later, when Alex Tuckerman carried the puck into the zone, flipped it around an Idaho player and recovered it himself for a shot from a bad angle. The rebound came back to him, so he tried a wrap-around. That didn’t go in either but after another bounce he tapped it up over Josh Robinson’s pad and cut the Idaho lead in half.
The Bulls started the second period much stronger, but 3:38 in, Jordan Morrison clipped Bryce Reddick in the face during a failed stick lift. This resulted in matching penalties, including a questionable diving penalty to Reddick. Neither team scored four on four.
Three minutes later, Christian Ouellet took a slashing call after the Bulls spent too long in their defensive zone. It took the Steelheads five seconds to score on the tired penalty killers. A blast from the faceoff circle gave de Kastrozza his second of the game.
Three minutes later, Peter Sivak struck back with a well-executed play beginning in the neutral zone. Sivak carried the puck across the line, passed it away from his pursuers to Dean Ouellet on the right wing. Ouellet carried it around the boards as if to go behind the net. Instead, he passed it in front of the net, through two players. Sivak was waiting in front of the blue paint to put it into an open net.
With 44 seconds remaining, Dean Ouellet drew a hooking call. Seconds later, Jeremie Blain crossed checked Christian Ouellet into the boards and added to the Bulls advantage. Some fans then started throwing Chuck-a-pucks onto the ice. After a warming that the home team would receive a delay of game penalty, it stopped.
The five on three power play didn’t accomplish much in those 44 seconds. Idaho’s Ben Ondrus intercepted a pass and made an unfettered breakaway up ice to challenge the Bulls’ goalie. Heemskerk was up to the task and held the team within one going into the third period.
The Bulls started the third period with 1:16 remaining in the five on three power play.
Sivak, Morrison, Dean Ouellet, Christian Ouellet, and Kwiet started the period. Morrison planted himself in front of the net while the other four passed the puck around at some length. He wasn’t in front of Robinson when Kwiet put the puck on net from close to the Idaho goal line. It was such an improbable shot that no one seemed ready for it. It went in and the game was tied.
The Bulls had a few seconds left of five on four play, but couldn’t score again. Scott Langdon went to the box for a hit from behind, putting the Bulls on the penalty kill without their new Captain. The penalty kill went smoothly until the end when an Idaho player had a very good chance. He hit the post.
A few shifts later, after stealing the puck on a backcheck, Christian Ouellet carried it back through the neutral zone and sent it in deep. Dean Ouellet caught it on the opposite boards and took it behind the net before sending it back to Langdon at the point. Langdon passed it quickly to Kwiet in the slot. A quick one-timer went over Robinson’s shoulder and gave the Bulls their first lead of the game.
Idaho’s offense woke up and pounded San Francisco, but now the Bulls were dug in. During one Idaho rush through the neutral zone, Tuckerman managed to take down both Blaine and Gron with an open ice hip check at the Bulls’ blue line. The Idaho players were not pleased but there was no penalty to call.
Kris Belan took control of the puck after a defensive zone faceoff, got through the neutral zone incredibly fast and gave himself plenty of time to shoot. His one-timer flew by Robinson and the Bulls had a two goal lead with 3:18 left in the game.
The Steelheads pulled their goalie with over two minutes left. Kwiet tried for a hat trick by gently flipping the puck all the way down the ice and from behind the Bulls’ goal line. He missed. Sivak tried too, but from the correct side of the red line. He missed as well, having two Idaho players to contend with. A couple defensive zone draws later, Sivak had a second chance and this time he didn’t miss.
Wednesday’s call-up of Marek Viedensky came much sooner than anyone had expected, though his performance Tuesday warranted it. The San Jose Sharks moved a forward to injured reserve, and called up Worcester’s leading scorer from the AHL. That left a hole in the habitually goal-hungry Worcester Sharks roster. Viedensky was the obvious choice, leaving the Bulls with six defensemen and nine forwards available. While that sounds like a nice even number, it isn’t something they do very often, and it left an empty spot on their bench. Obviously, they coped.
Mikael Tam did play Wednesday, and though he didn’t show up on the score sheet, he gave the team a boost, ending with two shots and a +1.
San Francisco goals were scored by Alex Tuckerman with assists to Clendenning and Carlson, Kris Belan, with two goals from Peter Sivak, the first assisted by Dean Ouellet, the second an unassisted, short-handed, empty net goal. Rob Kwiet also scored twice, the first a PPG assisted by D Ouellet and C Ouellet, the second assisted by Langdon and Ouellet. Thomas Heemskerk made 41 saves for the win.
Idaho goals were scored by Tyler Gron with an assist to Tristan King, and two by David de Kastrozza, the first earning one assists for Case and Watters, the second a power play goal with assists to Coyle and Case. Josh Robinson made 30 saves for the Steelheads.
The Bulls play again Saturday in Stockton.