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.

RELATED: NHL, union continue to bicker
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' Erik Karlsson adjusting well to new fatherhood amid NHL hiatus

Sharks' Erik Karlsson adjusting well to new fatherhood amid NHL hiatus

The last six months have been hectic for Sharks star Erik Karlsson.
 
It's not just the uphill hockey season, and thumb surgery, and the suspension of all sports in general. But it's also becoming a dad, and getting really good at … diapers.
 
“I can’t say that I’m a pro at it,” Karlsson joked. “Although I do change the diapers at night in the complete dark, and that can be a little tricky at times.”
 
Erik missed the first Sharks game of the season to be with his wife Melinda for the birth of their daughter, Harlow Rain. Now that hockey sits idle, the defenseman is substituting line changes with teammates for diaper changes with his daughter.
 
“I’m a little bit more of a risk-taker,” Karlsson said about his strategy. “I do believe if the diaper is full and she’s done, then she’s done.”
 
He also reaffirmed what every parent quickly learns: "Number ones" are much easier to handle than "number twos."
 
“It depends what type of number two, too,” Karlsson said. “Some are easier than others.”
 
Fatherhood of six months has already made Karlsson realize he’s changed.
 
“My patience, especially is a lot better, and the uncertainty of things,” Karlsson shared. “Not being able to plan as much ahead as you could before.”
 
Fortunately, Erik’s left thumb has recovered well since the injury and required surgery in mid-February. Meaning he’s not limited in dad-duties this summer.
 
“That’s been great, it was one of the things I didn’t really worry about to begin with, and I’m definitely not worried about it right now,” Karlsson explained. “If the season would have been on, I probably could have played a couple weeks ago.”

[RELATED: Bettman says NHL examining all options for restart]
 
This means the Norris winner should have no problem defending 2-on-1’s next season, just like he’s defending “twos” and “ones” this summer.
 
“At first, it made you gag sometimes, and now it doesn’t even phase me really.”

Sharks' Mario Ferraro reveals lesson learned in whirlwind rookie year

Sharks' Mario Ferraro reveals lesson learned in whirlwind rookie year

Mario Ferraro has surpassed the wildest of expectations in his rookie season with the Sharks, and it hasn't exactly been an uneventful one.

Since making the jump straight from college to the pros, the 21-year-old defenseman has witnessed a mid-season coaching change, the acquisition and eventual trading of a franchise legend, a seemingly endless string of serious injuries to roster cornerstones and -- oh yeah -- an indefinite pause of the NHL season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Not exactly your average rookie year.

Technically, Ferraro's rookie season hasn't come to an end -- at least not yet. Commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday that there currently is too much uncertainty for the league to be able to determine when the season might be able to resume, though he hopes to "know more by the end of April." In any case, even if San Jose was able to play out its remaining games, there are only 12 left. Considering the Sharks fell to the absolute bottom of the NHL standings right before the season was paused, an additional playoff run is entirely out of the question.

So, for all intents and purposes, we can't really consider Ferraro a rookie anymore. He has 61 career NHL games under his belt, so, really, that has been the case for a while.

Ferraro flew back to Toronto shortly before the Bay Area's shelter-in-place orders went into effect, and has been doing his best to stay in shape while living at his parents' house. In a recent discussion with NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil, he described an important lesson that was crucial to his development as a rookie.

"I think one small thing that's actually not small at all when you really look at it," Ferraro said, "is just preparation and that mentality of staying even-keel the whole year. What I mean by that is not getting too high on the highs or too low on the lows. You have so many games and so many important games that if you have a good game one night, you better forget about it because you gotta do the same thing the next night. Or, vice versa, if you play poorly, you really gotta forget about it and bounce back strong.

"And it's not just from game to game -- it's from shift to shift. You're playing in a league that has really fast players, strong players. You can get exposed, and it's going to happen. People are going to make mistakes. I'm a defenseman, so I feel like you're more bound to make mistakes ... they're more glaringly obvious. From a mental perspective, you really have to learn to just kind of say, OK, it happened. Move on. Let's get back to my game and play hard."

While Ferraro is correct that no player is exempt from making mistakes, he didn't have too many glaring errors throughout his first season in the NHL -- or at least, he did a good job covering them up. He earned the trust of the coaching staff and was rewarded with additional opportunities, which he proved capable of handling. Over the last eight games before the season was paused, Ferraro averaged over 20 minutes of ice time per night.

[RELATED: Leonard reunited with college roommate Ferraro on Sharks]

In terms of mentors on the team, Ferraro specifically mentioned fellow defenseman Brent Burns as someone who has been tremendously helpful to him. And like seemingly everyone else in that locker room, Ferraro is a big fan of Joe Thornton. But ultimately, it has been a team effort in supporting Ferraro throughout his rookie year. It takes a village, after all.

"Nobody's counted out on this team," Ferraro explained. "They're all great guys. They've all taught me a ton this year, and we're really close. It has been a good learning curve for me."

While we're all focused on flattening the curve, it has long been evident that -- as a rookie -- Ferraro's wasn't very steep.