Sharks

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

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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.

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

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USATSI

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

The difference between a 2-3-0 start and a 1-4-0 start is bigger than two standings points.

The former is far from ideal, but if you squint hard enough, there's enough wiggle room to improve. There's still time with the latter, too, but the margin for error is much thinner moving forward.

The Sharks experienced that difference firsthand after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It's not an ideal record, but they’ve managed to salvage a poor start. 

There are still some flaws, to be sure. The power play isn't just the Kevin Labanc show after the top unit scored all three power play goals Tuesday, but is still carrying a disproportionate offensive load. The penalty kill’s scoreless streak came to an end, but they were called into action six times.

Despite all that, Tuesday's win was San Jose’s best effort this season. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton all had multi-point games for the first time this year. Martin Jones had another strong game, and appears to have shaken off his slow start.

In short, San Jose’s game is headed in the right direction. It needs to be, with a five-game road trip beginning on Friday. 

Now comes the hard part.

It's on the road where we’ll get our best sense of who this team really is. Peter DeBoer won’t have the benefit of last change, and won't be able to dictate matchups. 

Under these circumstances, we’ll begin to really see if Joakim Ryan is ready for a top-four role, whether Kevin Labanc is a viable first-line winger, and how the rest of the young reinforcements stack up. They will have less time off, too, as all but one game occurs after one day (or less) of rest and travel. That missed practice time isn't ideal for any team, let alone one still trying to work out the kinks.

Fortunately, the competition is forgiving, at least on paper. Other than the Devils, none of the Sharks’ four other road trip opponents have winning records as of this writing. The topsy turvy nature of the standings, though, show how little “on paper” means this early in the season.

We’ll know a lot more about who these San Jose Sharks are by the time their road trip ends. Their record still won't tell the whole story, but by then, they'll have played about an eighth of the season. 

And by then, we’ll have a much better idea of how good this team really is.

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

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AP

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Logan Couture credited a teammate for scoring his second goal. He took credit for the first one.

Couture scored a pair of goals and the San Jose Sharks extended their dominance of the Montreal Canadiens with a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night.

Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl also scored for the Sharks, who have won the past 11 home games against the Canadiens, a streak that dates to Nov. 23, 1999.

On a power play late in the third period, rookie Tim Heed took a shot off a face-off that bounced free in front of the net. Pavelski couldn't get his stick on it but managed to kick it across the net for Couture, who found a huge opening.

"That was pretty special," Couture said. "I don't know if he knew I was there but he kept his balance and kicked it over."

Couture opened the scoring 3:30 into the first period, grabbing a rebound off the back board, skating across the front of the net to get Price to commit and then firing into an open net.

Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber scored for the Canadiens, who are winless since an opening night victory at the Buffalo Sabres.

"It's a very poor start from our team, from myself, from a lot of individuals," Canadiens' Max Pacioretty said. "It's a good time to look in the mirror and see what we're made of because a lot of people are probably doubting this team right now."

Martin Jones stopped 28 of 30 shots for the Sharks, who finish their season-opening homestand with a 2-3 record.

"The biggest thing is finding that energy for the whole game," Jones said. "We started OK and then we got better as the night went on."

Carey Price, who stopped 31 of 35 shots, fell to 2-7-1 in 10 games against the Sharks.

The Canadiens responded 36 seconds later when Drouin picked up a pass from Artturi Lehkonen close in and fired it over Jones' left shoulder and into the net.

Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead for good when he redirected Kevin Labanc's shot just under a minute into the second period. The shot hit Weber's left shin pad and bounced into the net.

"There were a lot of good things out there," Pavelski said. "We didn't have the homestand we wanted but we can leave on a positive note to take on the road."

Hertl padded the lead midway through the second on a power play. Standing on the right side of the net, he was trying to control a pass from Joe Thornton but the puck fluttered off his stick and got behind Price.

"I'll take it any way I can get it," Hertl said. "There are times I've had great shots that just bounced off the post."

Weber's power-play goal two minutes later kicked off Jones' skates for the score.

The Sharks needed five seconds to score on a power play late in the second period. Tim Heed shot on goal and it bounced off Pavelski's skate. Couture picked it up and found a huge opening.

NOTES: After allowing three power play goals over their first five penalty kills, the Sharks killed off 14 straight until Weber scored in the second period. ... Couture recorded his 24th career multi-goal game. ... Sharks D Tim Heed recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Couture's power-play goal. ... Brendan Gallagher needs one assist for 100 with the Canadiens.

UP NEXT:

Canadiens: plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday in their second back-to-back of the season.

Sharks: open a five-game road trip on the east coast with a game at the New Jersey Devils on Friday.