The San Francisco Bulls start the 2013-14 season on the road, against the Alaska Aces. Their preseason ended in three losses, including one shootout loss. Preseason games don’t tell you a great deal about how a team will perform in the regular season, but the Bulls’ two exhibition games at the Cow Palace were worth a look. New forward Ryan McDonough gave his assessment:
At the end we didn’t get the result we wanted but it is preseason and we’re just getting everything together so I think we’re moving forward pretty well.
In the Bulls’ first game, against the Bakersfield Condors, most of the faces on the ice were unfamiliar to fans. Head Coach Pat Curcio wanted to see as many players in a game setting as possible:
We want to see what their abilities are. We want to see who can do what, so you try to give everyone an opportunity. Unfortunately it’s hard sometimes in a close game you’re trying to do everything you can to end up winning.
It’s structure, you know we made a lot of mistakes, so did they…we’re just going to learn from it… It’s a process, it’s a long process. That’s the way it goes, you know, start slow.
Anthony Taylor, the player selected from open tryouts, got his first experience in the ECHL. Last season, he played in France:
It was fun. It’s definitely not a big hockey country but there’s a lot of people who come to games. They follow our team pretty closely.
We only played like 20 games the whole year. It’s definitely a little more relaxed over there. It’s only every Saturday that you play a game. It was more touring and hanging out. Obviously I wanted to do very well at the same time but it was more for the experience.
Taylor won’t be on the Bulls’ roster this season, but he might be back, Curcio explains:
He’s a young player. His improvement is up to him. If he works hard…keeps getting better, we’ll bring him back next year. If he does well we’ll give him an opportunity again. He’s done a good job for a young guy to step in and do what he’s done. It was good to see.
In the Bulls’ second preseason game, a lot of familiar players hit the ice, but it was one of the new guys who made the biggest impression. Ryan McDonough scored two goals and played an eye-catching game throughout. The Bulls lost 4-3 after a lengthy shootout but they gave fans a good show and much to look forward to.
Newcomers made their mark in the preseason. Goals were scored by McDonough (2), Dale Mitchell, Brett Parnham and Josh Kidd. Andrew Eastman, Chris Crane, Darren Rowe and Kyle Bigos all earned assists. Kris Belan, Dean Ouellet, Jordan Morrison, Scott Langdon, Dylan King and Christian Ouellet all got on the scoreboard as well.
Head Coach Pat Curcio explained that the team has work to do:
Our D struggled a little bit but we’ve got a lot of work to do. They all want to be offensive, but that’s not the way you’re going to play and that’s not the way you’re going to play in our lineup. So that’s what we’re going to start with. We’re going to work with these guys and we’ll continue to try and improve. We’ve got skill and we’ve got guys who want to get better that’s going to be our job to make them better.
Dean Ouellet and Morrison both returned recently from Kazakhstan. Ouellet is happy to be back:
It feels pretty good actually. Kazakhstan, I was there five weeks… it was a good experience and all but… I was talking to Pat [Curcio] at the same time and I felt like it was a good fit for me to come back. [Kazakhstan] was a good experience but it feels great to be back.
The team has met its leadership quorum to start their second season, with Ouellet and Morrison joining Langdon, Belan, King, Christian Ouellet and Brett Findlay as returning players. Curcio described the importance of having such players back in the fold:
We spent a year working with them, so it was nice to have people you’ve trained for a long time come in and make a difference. It’s exciting to have them. You need those guys, they’re gamers, they’re going to be good for us.
Not all of the returning players for the Bulls qualify as veterans by the ECHL definition, but having played in San Francisco before, they have a leg up on the team that started last season. Dean Ouellet explains that the difference is noticeable in the room too:
We have five or six guys from last year. We’ve got some additions and we lost some guys. But the five or six guys are pretty good friends so it feels good. We help the new guys. The new guys that we got, they’re great guys as well so the mix is good so far.
Some of the Bulls are returning to North America after playing in Europe. Their recent time abroad varied in length, and some had more of an adjustment to make than others. McDonough played in Europe for several seasons, spending time in Germany, Italy and Austria:
It’s an adjustment. I played a few exhibition games up [in Worcester]. It was a good adjustment for me up there, and the … games we just played. I’m familiarizing myself again. It’s been about five years since I played on smaller ice. It’s been good, fast pace.
That recent time overseas might come in handy for these first games in Alaska, since the Aces play on big ice.
During the offseason, the Bulls announced that Nick Czinder would be back this season. Czinder, along with Brett Findlay, joined the team just before last season’s playoffs and made quite an impression. He is not on the roster at this time as he is recovering from an injury.