Friday night at the legendary Cow Palace was a series of firsts for the ECHL Bulls as they kicked off their Inaugural season against the Bakersfield Condors.
Not only was it the first professional hockey game at the Cow Palace since the 1990’s but all three Bulls tallies were the first professional goals for forwards Kevin Baker and Dean Quellet and defenseman Sacha Guimond. Quellet’s first period goal—which tied the score at one a piece—will forever be known as the first goal in Bulls franchise history, scored from the high left slot through the wickets of Condors netminder Brian Stewart.
Unfortunately with a series of firsts often comes a series of unfortunate events. Despite Baker and Guimond’s goals coming 1:06 apart in the third period to cut the Condors lead to a single goal, Bakersfield would hold on to win 4-3, handing the Bulls their first loss.
Amongst other unfortunate events were a time keeping issue that halted play for a few minutes in the third after Guimond’s tally from the right point made the score 4-3. Furthermore, those of us in the press box did not have the benefit of replay televisions to be able to comment on questionable calls. Early in the second period, it appeared as if Bulls captain Justin Bowers had beautifully batted a puck out of mid-air for a good goal but was ruled a high touch. Bowers celebrated as if he were confident it would stand and from our vantage point it looked to be below or even with the crossbar.
However with no television replays for those in the building (except an occasional jumbotron replay), only those watching at home on the Comcast Hometown Channel 104 could get a second look at the disallowed goal.
One could certainly have made the joke that we have gone back in time to witness hockey at the Cow Palace. For many of the capacity crowd of 8, 277 it was the first time taking in a game at the historic arena, an arena to which this reporter had to literally walk by stables on his way to the concourse. In the moment one might of thought they were taking in a 1970’s hockey game much less a 2012 ECHL contest.
There is no doubt that it was certainly an unusual atmosphere for those of us experiencing the league, the players and the venue for the first time. The phrase “welcome to minor league hockey” was thrown about the press more than once on this Friday night.
But as for the hockey itself, the Bulls showed a similar late-game push as they have all preseason long as noted by head coach Pat Curcio. However the head coach and Team President was certainly disappointed in his team’s ability to stay on track for 60 minutes.
Sound familiar, Sharks fans?
Speaking of familiarity, the one player on the Bulls roster that Sharks fans may recognize is starting goaltender Thomas Heemskerk. The BC native is the only current Bulls player to have spent time with the Worcester Sharks (San Jose’s AHL affiliate) last season. Heemskerk—who made 31 saves in the Bulls opener Friday—-was originally signed by the Sharks organization as an un-drafted free agent back in 2009. At just 22 years old, Heemskerk still has an outside chance at working his way up to the NHL.
Moving forward, the Bulls will once again host the Condors on Saturday before getting into the meat of their schedule. If San Francisco wants to come away with a victory they will almost certainly have to do a better job shutting down the line of Zack Cohen, Levi Nelson and Anaheim Ducks prospect Brett Perlini. The trio torched the Bulls for three goals (one each) on Friday as they combined for seven of the eight Condors points.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson and Assistant GM Wayne Thomas dropped a ceremonial puck prior to the game amidst a cheers but also a handful of boos from the San Francisco crowd.