Hockey returns to San Francisco as Bulls open with 4-3 loss


Hockey returns to San Francisco as Bulls open with 4-3 loss

DALY CITY There was a little more than an hour to go before the inaugural puck was to drop for the San Francisco Bulls on Friday night, and it was easy to sense the nervous energy emanating from the teams president, its general manager and its head coach.

That may be because Pat Curcio is all three. Its a hat trick of professional hats, so to speak.

Its a little surreal, and hard to explain the emotions going through my mind, thats for sure, Curcio, 39, said from his office, moments after meeting with his team. The last couple years since the actual thought of this came about, to where we are today, its been an amazing ride. Im real excited to finally play some hockey tonight.

The Bulls are the newest member of the 23-team East Coast Hockey League, essentially a double-A feeder team for the NHL and its primary minor league, the American Hockey League. The Bulls are affiliated with the San Jose Sharks, although only goaltender Thomas Heemskerk is under contract to San Jose (goaltender Taylor Nelson and defenseman Mikael Tam are Worcester Sharks property, but have been reassigned here to San Francisco).

Heemskerk, in fact, started in net for the Bulls on Friday, suffering a 4-3 loss to the Bakersfield Condors. Although wins and losses are important to Curcio the coach, Curcio the president knows that the success of his nascent franchise will be determined not by the number of wins or losses, but by the number of butts in the seats.

The Bulls announced an impressive crowd of 8,277 on Friday night, so theyre off to a good start in that regard. They had a stated goal to reach 1,000 season ticket holders, and a team spokesman said they are close to reaching that number.

When youre wearing two hats, my emotions are you want to win, you want to teach, you want to make these players better, Curcio said. You want to see the couple goalies that we have here that are Sharks prospects, and a couple defensemen -- we want to see them in the NHL. Thats going to take winning and development.

The other side of it is, the business side, we want to see the fans come out and build this product and build an identity here. We want to be a fabric of this city, and something this city can be proud of long after Im gone.

The Bulls first game marked the return of hockey to the Cow Palace for the first time in more than 15 years. The San Francisco Spiders of the now defunct International Hockey League lasted only one season, shutting down operations after reportedly losing more than 6 million in 1995-96.

The way Curcio sees it, the Spiders were victims of playing in an unstable league, as the IHL shut down operations after 2001. He points out that the Spiders drew more than 5,000 fans per game, which in minor league hockey, is a respectable number.

It took some work to make the Cow Palace, built in 1941, ready to house a team again.

Here at the Cow Palace, every time we opened a door to correct something, we found something else that needed to be corrected, said Curcio, who spent 10 years playing in the ECHL and Europe. It was tiresome, it was stressful, and a lot of times we thought, can this really be fixed?

At first glance, they did a good job. There is a new scoreboard that is much more high-tech that those found at most minor league arenas, but there remains a certain charm about the old place, which was home to the San Jose Sharks for their first two years of existence.

The players, who literally have to walk down stairs to get from their locker room to the ice, and back up again at intermission, seem to sense the novelty and history of their home.

You can tell how old the rink is, and its going to be a special barn to play in, and it literally is a barn, said captain Justin Bowers, referring to the Cow Palaces history of rodeos and other assorted bovine-related celebrations. Its fitting that were the Bulls and were playing in the barn, and its all coming together.

Local product Hans Benson -- who is a minor league marketers dream when you consider his Menlo Park, CA upbringing, authentic tough guy-scowl and a willingness to drop the gloves at any time -- said, We call that character. Its a real character place. The glass is noisy, its a loud building, and a great place to play.

The Bulls inaugural season timing may be beneficial in that Sharks fans looking for a place to see some live hockey dont have too far to go while the NHL remains in a lockout. Seeing the Bulls wont cost them nearly as much, either, as tickets range from 19.50 to 41, while the average price for a Sharks ticket was approximately 50 last season, according to Team Marketing Report.

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For me, Im the biggest hockey fan there is. I hate that theres a lockout. I want to see NHL games, and I love watching them, Curcio said. As a hockey fan and a Sharks fan, we provide an alternate product for them if they want to see some hockey live. Its going to be exciting, entertaining, and worth coming up to.

Hes confident that the Bulls can keep drawing fans on a regular basis after what can only be considered a successful opening night, despite the one-goal loss.

We had a vision, and I think for the most part its pretty much in line with what we imagined.

Rewind: Sharks slow, sloppy and undisciplined in loss to Wings

Rewind: Sharks slow, sloppy and undisciplined in loss to Wings

DETROIT – The Sharks had just one scheduled practice on their 10-day road trip, set to take place on Friday in Detroit prior to the fifth and final game against the Red Wings. It was canceled, though, as the coaching staff opted for rest rather than work.

The result was a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings in which the Sharks were sloppy in their own zone, were smoked in the faceoff circle, surrendered a plethora of odd-man rushes, and took eight minor penalties. They just couldn’t keep pace with a Detroit team that was playing its second game in as many nights. 

San Jose looked like a club that has held just a single solitary practice since the season began on Oct. 12.

“Some breakdowns, guys not being above [the puck], some giveaways in our own end, we’re kind of leaving [the defensive zone] early,” Logan Couture said. “We just don’t seem like we’re dedicated to defense like we were at the end [of] last year.”

[KURZ: Instant Replay: Sharks blanked by Wings, end road trip with thud]

“It wasn’t very good tonight,” added Martin Jones, who lost his third in a row in goal. “Too many penalties, too many turnovers. Just wasn’t very good tonight.”

The start was actually a decent one, as the Sharks were attempting to put Thursday’s third period collapse in Pittsburgh behind them, but Detroit eventually took over. Gustav Nyquist broke the scoreless tie four minutes into the second period, and added to the Red Wings’ lead with a second marker about 11 minutes later.

On the first, Paul Martin was caught flat-footed in the offensive zone, leading to a two-on-one rush by Detroit. Nyquist abruptly stopped on the faceoff dot in front of Justin Braun, and rifled a shot though. On the second, Matt Nieto had control of the puck and was headed up the ice before he stumbled and turned it over to Ryan Sproul, who found Nyquist in the slot. 

A bad line change resulted in Andreas Athanasiou powering a slap shot to Jones’ far side six minutes into the third period, giving Detroit a commanding three-goal lead. 

“We were late everywhere tonight,” Pete DeBoer said. “When you’re a step behind a good team they expose you, and I think that was the story. We’ll have to go back and figure out why, and get our game back in a better place.”

“We played into their hands. They’re a transition team, a speed team, and if you’re going to play east-west and turn the puck over they’re going to make you pay for it. We talked about it, but we still fell into that trap. Obviously the penalties didn’t help, and we’re playing catch up all night.”

Among those penalties was a double minor to Joe Pavelski for spearing Steve Ott, just a few seconds after Athanasiou’s goal. The captain seemed agitated for much of the night.

Pavelski said he didn’t think he got a whole lot of Ott with his stick, but “it’s a play you don’t want to make.”

DeBoer didn’t take issue with the play which nullified what would have been a Sharks power play after a Drew Miller interference.

“Pav is a competitor. He was probably our best player tonight. He’s competing right until the final buzzer,” DeBoer said. “I don’t have a problem with that. It doesn’t bother me.”

The power play, though, is one area that the coach may need to focus on when the Sharks finally get a practice in on Monday at home. Despite being together for so many years, the top unit seems tentative with the puck and is misfiring on passes that are typically routine.

On one power play in the second period when the game was still scoreless, Pavelski was open in front of the net, but Patrick Marleau missed him on what would have been a tap-in goal. The Sharks finished 0-for-4 with a man advantage and have just one goal in a manned net this season during five-on-four play.

What has to change?

“Quite a few things,” Couture said. “We’re breaking in fine, [but] we’re too stationary, I think. I don’t know if we’re moving the puck well enough. Not attacking holes, not shooting the puck and getting it back.”

The Sharks will open up a three-game homestand on Tuesday with the Ducks. There is work to do before that.

“We’re 3-3. That’s the good news,” DeBoer said. “I think we’ve played some good hockey, but we have a lot of things we’ve got to clean up, too.”

Jones said: “Obviously it wasn’t the way we wanted to end the road trip. We’ll bounce back, and we’ve got a lot of games left.”

Instant Replay: Sharks blanked by Wings, end road trip with thud

Instant Replay: Sharks blanked by Wings, end road trip with thud


DETROIT – The Sharks organization made some good memories over the years at Joe Louis Arena. Saturday’s game, their final regular season game ever in the storied Detroit arena, wasn’t one of them.

Gustav Nyquist scored twice and Jimmy Howard made 30 saves in leading the Red Wings to a 3-0 blanking of the Sharks. San Jose’s record stands at an even 3-3-0 after it lost three of five games on its road trip, including the final two.

The Sharks open a three-game homestand with the Ducks on Tuesday.

Both of Nyquist’s goals came in the second period as Detroit opened up a 2-0 edge.

His first came on a two-on-one rush. Nyquist skated the puck into the Sharks’ zone, slammed on the breaks in the faceoff circle, and buzzed a wrist shot past Martin Jones at 4:14 of the middle frame.

On his second score, Nyquist squeezed a wrist shot through Jones from the slot at 15:10 shortly after Matt Nieto lost his footing – and the puck – in the Sharks’ defensive zone.

The Red Wings put the game out of reach when Andreas Athanasiou teed off on a slap shot from the circle at 6:05 of the third period, beating the Sharks’ starting goalie high to the far side.

San Jose was unable to score despite pulling Jones for an extra attacker with more than three minutes to go.

The Sharks again struggled on the power play taking an 0-for-4, and are 0-for-8 over the last three games.

Detroit will open Little Ceasar’s Arena at the start of next season. The Sharks finished with a 12-28-4 record all-time at The Joe.

Special teams

If there was one bright spot for the Sharks it was their penalty kill, which fought off all seven Red Wings power plays.

The power play, though, remains ice cold, as San Jose has scored just one power play goal this season during a standard five-on-four advantage. Overall, the Sharks are 3-for-20 on the season, including an empty net goal and another on a two-man advantage.

A bit of nastiness ensued shortly after the Red Wings’ third goal, as Joe Pavelski was given a double-minor for “attempting to spear” Steve Ott, who got an unsportsmanlike conduct minor.

In goal

Jones dropped to 2-3 on the season, losing his third straight start after beginning the season with a pair of wins. He allowed three goals on 32 shots.

Howard won for the second time in as many starts. He improved to 5-7-4 all-time against San Jose.


Brent Burns, who entered the game tied for the league lead in scoring with nine points, saw his five-game point streak to start the season come to an end.

Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader was scratched, so Athanasiou was inserted back into the lineup.

San Jose reassigned forward Ryan Carpenter to the Barracuda on Friday. He did not play at all on the trip.

Up next

The Sharks will play just their second home game on Tuesday against Anaheim. The Blue Jackets visit SAP Center on Thursday, and the Predators next Saturday.

Overall, five of the Sharks’ next six games are in San Jose.