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.

The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought after nearly one year


The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought after nearly one year

Jannik Hansen's game-winning goal against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday marked the first time he scored in 355 days. 

Hansen last scored on Mar. 30, 2017 against the Edmonton Oilers, his second goal with the Sharks following an in-season trade. His scoring drought, in all, lasted 44 regular season games, 50 if you include the postseason. 

How exactly does a goal-scoring drought last nearly a year? The right (wrong?) circumstances all need to come together, and that was certainly the case for Hansen for much of the last year.

For one, the Danish forward was in and out of the lineup. San Jose played 83 regular season and postseason games between Hansen's second and third goals, and he did not play in 33 of those games. Plenty of players have had rough 50-game stretches, and that's often without not playing for weeks at a time, as Hansen has done a couple of times this season. 

When Hansen did draw into the lineup this year, however, he wasn't generating offense at the same rate he had in the past. This season, Hansen's five-on-five shot rate (6.19 shots per 60 minutes), shot attempt rate (10.53 individual corsi per 60), and unblocked shot attempt rate (8.95 individual fenwick per 60) were all down from his career averages, according to Corsica Hockey. 

That decline is natural, considering Hansen turned 32 just six days ago. Those rates were not down enough, however, to expect him to fail to score in his first 39 appearances this season. Naturally, a long run of bad luck played a big role in Hansen's dry spell.

Hansen went 0-for-66 in shots over the 50 consecutive regular season and playoff games in which he did not score. He's a career 11-percent shooter, and had he shot at his career average, he would have scored seven goals during that time. That feels about right for a bottom-six forward. 

In many ways, all of these factors fed into one another. Hansen wasn't generating shots or scoring, then was scratched, then couldn't find the back of the net when he returned and was scratched again. All the while, fellow fourth-liners Marcus Sorensen (26.7 percent shooting percentage this season), Joel Ward (14.3 percent) and Barclay Goodrow (13.2 percent) were converting on their chances, forcing Peter DeBoer's hand. 

His possession play has been solid all season (50.74 percent corsi-for, per Natural Stat Trick), but the offense hasn't followed. When it does, as was the case Tuesday night, he can be an effective fourth-line forward, and the goal on Tuesday bought him more time to prove it. 

Sharks blow out Devils for season-high fifth straight win

Sharks blow out Devils for season-high fifth straight win


SAN JOSE -- Jannik Hansen scored his first goal of the season and fellow fourth-liners Eric Fehr and Barclay Goodrow also scored to help the San Jose Sharks win their season-high fifth straight game, 6-2 over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.

Logan Couture added his 30th goal of the season, and Joe Pavelski and Mikkel Boedker also scored to give the Sharks a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with one game in hand.

Brent Burns added three assists and Martin Jones made 26 saves.

The scoring barrage by San Jose spoiled Cory Schneider's return to net for the Devils. Schneider allowed four goals on 14 shots before getting pulled midway through the second period of his first start since March 8. Schneider has lost 11 starts in a row since his last win for the Devils on Dec. 27.

Taylor Hall scored his 32nd goal of the season and Blake Coleman also scored for the Devils, who lead Florida by just one point in the race for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers have two games in hand.

After Hansen and Fehr scored in the first period, Goodrow chipped one in midway through the second period on a surprising night of scoring from the fourth line when he beat Schneider on a 2-on-1.

Couture then scored 40 seconds later on San Jose's first shot against Keith Kinkaid for his third career 30-goal season. Boedker added San Jose's second power-play goal of the night late in the second and the rout was on.

The Sharks got off to a fast start in their first game back from a 3-0 Canadian road trip, scoring three goals in the first period and killing 1:20 of a two-man advantage for New Jersey.

The teams traded goals to start with Fehr beating Schneider over the shoulder from a bad angle and Hall answering when he stole a bouncing puck from Justin Braunand beat Jones with a quick shot.

San Jose then scored twice in a span of less than three minutes to take the lead. Pavelski tipped in a shot from Kevin Labanc on the power play to give the Sharks the lead.

Then after Jones denied Damon Severson from in close at one end, Dylan DeMelo sent a long pass that Hansen chased down and then beat Schneider on a breakaway for his first goal since March 30, 2017.

NOTES: DeMelo has 10 assists this month. ... San Jose D Brenden Dillon has a five-game point streak. ... Devils F Miles Wood (upper body) was scratched and Jesper Bratt played in his place.


Devils: Visit Pittsburgh on Friday.

Sharks: Host Vegas on Thursday.