The Alaska Aces may not be the runaway ECHL point leaders they were last season, but they still occupy a special, dark place in the hearts of the San Francisco Bulls and their fans. Last weekend’s trio of games at the Cow Palace did little to change that. Despite a stunning comeback from the Bulls in Friday’s game, San Francisco only earned two points in three games.
After Saturday’s loss, Bulls head coach Pat Curcio said:
I think we blew a few points this weekend. I thought [Thursday], we started off slow, last night we started slow, and tonight we started slow. It’s hard to come back all the time, always chasing teams from behind.
In light of last week’s numerous roster moves, Curcio anticipates improvement in general:
Obviously, we’re a little bit of a different team, and this was our first weekend together without really getting a chance to practice, so I think that we will become better as a team and hopefully more complete.
Despite the two losses, Curcio saw improvement in the Bulls’ power play by the third game:
We had some puck movement; we had some good chances. Their goaltender made some big saves when he needed to. That’s why he was playoff MVP last year.
The Bulls lost to the Aces four games to one in last season’s playoffs. That memory lingers in their rivalry, as forward Jordan Morrison explained:
We played against them in the playoffs last year, and they’ve got Peter Sivak, and you never like to see a former teammate coming in and winning in our barn. It’s hockey, and you compete out there and every night’s a battle.
That one of the two losses was close is small consolation for the Bulls, who only earned two of six possible points last weekend.
THURSDAY’s game ended 3-2 for Alaska. The Bulls had two power plays in the first period, but Alaska scored first, off of the team’s first shot 11:57 into the game. James Martin’s shot went around Bulls goaltender Tyler Beskorowany and in, off the post. Assists went to Tommy Mele and Evan Trupp.
The Bulls tied it up with just over three minutes left in the period, after a long spell in the offensive zone. They didn’t take many shots in that time, but the Aces had a heck of a time getting the puck out. Finally, Dale Mitchell put the puck on net, and Dean Ouellet tipped it in to tie the game. Assists went to Mitchell and Brett Findlay.
The Aces retook the lead with 4:58 remaining in the second period, when defenseman Dustin Molle beat Beskorowany with a backhand. The Bulls had been mostly trapped in their zone for too long. They extended the lead just over two minutes later when Mathew Sisca took advantage of a breakaway and beat Beskorowany. The lone assist went to Brad Richard.
The Aces were due for a power play when the third period started, and they got one when Scott Langdon was called for slashing at the 1:44 mark. The Bulls killed that off and gained the zone, staying a step ahead of the Aces through several cycles. With 15:23 left, Steven Tarasuk took a shot from the half wall that went by Alaska goaltender Olivier Roy, bringing the Bulls within one. Riley Brace got an assist on the goal.
With 9:46 left in the period, the Bulls were back on the penalty kill. Langdon made his second trip to the box, this time for kneeing. 23 seconds into the penalty kill, Mitchell was called for hooking, putting the Bulls down by two men.
The Bulls killed off both penalties, and Dale Mitchell came out of the box ready for a breakaway, but the pass was ahead of him and the Aces had an eye on him anyway.
With 3:30 left, Langdon took a third trip to the penalty box, this time for interference.
The Bulls had 37 seconds of power play time to end the game but ran out of time.
FRIDAY, Peter Sivak spent the first period catching up on those points he didn’t score Thursday. He scored one and assisted on the two other goals Alaska scored in the first frame.
The Aces kicked the Bulls down early, scoring on a third try after Beskorowany made two quick saves. The goal was scored by Eli Zuck just 18 seconds in to the period. Assists went to Mele and Sivak.
The Bulls had to kill a penalty at 8:41 when Magomed Gimbatov was called for tripping. They killed that off, but on their first power play opportunity they gave up a goal and found themselves down by two.
Alaska’s Ross Ring-Jarvi tripped Beskorowany and in less than a minute, the Bulls found themselves skating the wrong way twice. The second time, Sivak struck.
With 4:48 left in the period, the Aces entered the zone again, and with a shot from the half wall, Drew MacKenzie gave the Aces a three-goal lead. Assists went to Ring-Jarvi and Sivak, who earned his third point of the period.
The Bulls’ new Latvian defenseman, Eriks Sevcenko, had a breakaway to cope with at the very end of the period. He took the opportunity to knock the Alaska player off the puck, using clean, shoulder-to-shoulder contact. It was a small thing, but a tidy maneuver in what had been a very disorderly first period for his team. It also stopped the player from taking the shot. It wasn’t exactly a turning point, but it was a sign of life when things looked dim.
During intermission, the Bulls went and had a chat in their locker room. They returned for the second period to set and reset their record for scoring three goals. First, they scored three in 59 seconds, then they scored a fourth so that the last three of those had been scored in 49 seconds.
Jordan scored the Bulls’ first goal of the game. With 11:11 left in the second period, a good shift from Morrison, Mitchell and Findlay generated several chances and finally one went in for them. A last-moment, tough angle shot found its way in the far side of the net.
Less than a minute later, with the Bulls on a power play, Mitchell skated up the middle to the net, found the rebound from an Ouellet shot and put the puck over Coleman. Seconds later, Findlay and Mitchell got around the Alaska defense for a two on one to tie the game at three.
After the next faceoff, the Bulls quickly gained control of the puck and went in four-on-two. A couple of shots later, and Ouellet put in the rebound from a Sebastian Stalberg shot. That gave the Bulls the lead.
The Aces answered with a fourth goal of their own, with just over five minutes left in the period. Tim Coffman skated into the slot and shot the puck right past the Bulls’ netminder. It was not Beskorowany’s best moment.
He responded by earning an assist on the Bulls’ next goal, when he came out to the faceoff circle to gather in a puck and pass it up to Morrison, who was ready to go the other way with Brett Findlay in a fast two on one. Morrison took a hard shot from above the faceoff dot and beat Alaska goaltender Gerald Coleman.
The period ended with the Bulls up 5-4, though the Aces still led on the shot clock 31-19.
The Aces tied the game again 3:57 in to the third period. Alaska’s Tommy Mele, after winning a battle in the corner, put the puck in front of San Francisco’s net. Peter Sivak was there to put it home.
Dean Ouellet went to the box for hooking at 7:45 of the period. 33 seconds in to that penalty, Riley Brace went to the box for tripping, leaving the Bulls to defend almost 90 seconds of 5 on 3 for the Aces. The units for killing that were Morrison, King and Segert, then Judson, Bigos and Segert. Segert was on the ice for the full 90 seconds of 5 on 3.
The teams fought on, including some actual fights conveniently close to the penalty boxes. Those broke out in the last four minutes of regulation, and the Bulls ended up with a power play. They didn’t convert, and the game went to overtime.
Like Sivak, the Bulls’ Morrison and Mitchell also scored two goals apiece. The only Bulls goal scorer who hadn’t scored two was Dean Ouellet. It fell to him to win the game in overtime:
I didn’t do much on that. It was all Jordan Morrison there, he skated, he used his speed and he did a nice move. I think all the boys went on him. I think he fell and he did a second effort because he saw me there, he pushed the puck to me, I had a wide open net, so I didn’t have to do much.
SATURDAY, the Aces would not be turned back after taking the lead, which they did just over five minutes into the game. The Bulls couldn’t get the puck out of their zone, and Shawn Skelly had too much room to skate in front of Beskorowany and pick his spot. The assist went to Nick Mazzolini.
They followed that up by scoring off the rush. Mathew Sisca skated in and put the puck past Beskorowany on the far side, with an assists going to Evan Trupp.
The first ended with the Aces leading yet again, on the scoreboard 2-0, and in shots 11-8.
The second period started out slowly, but when Aces goaltender Roy mishandled the puck next to his net, Brett Findlay was able to take advantage and cut Alaska’s lead in half. Assist to Dale Mitchell.
The Bulls had two power plays near the midpoint of the period, but didn’t score on either one. Shortly after the second penalty expired, the Aces pushed into the Bulls’ zone and Tim Coffman extended Alaska’s lead back to two.
At the 20-minute mark of the second period, Brett Findlay took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. It took the Aces seven seconds to score on that power play.
The Bulls reduced the deficit by one with 16:24 left in the period, when Sebastian Stalberg made his way to the net and scored his first goal as a Bull. Assists went to Riley Brace and Dean Ouellet.
The Bulls couldn’t score again, and gave up another in the final five minutes of the period. That was Coffman’s second of the game.
The Bulls are still in seventh place in the western conference, but the Bakersfield Condors are only one point behind them, with four games in hand.
Kris Belan needed surgery for a broken hand and is out for four to six weeks. J.P. Anderson was also on the injured list, explaining the acquisition of goaltender Alex Kangas last Wednesday.