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.

Sharks Tomas Hertl assisting rookie duo both on and off the ice


Sharks Tomas Hertl assisting rookie duo both on and off the ice

SAN JOSE – Being new to a team and not speaking the native tongue would understandably be a challenge for Sharks’ newcomers Lukas Radil and Radim Simek.

Lucky for the Czech rookies, they have Tomas Hertl to help them get acclimated.

“I try to help them out as much as I can,” Hertl told NBC Sports California ahead of the Sharks Thursday night rumble with the Dallas Stars. “For (Simek) I’ll try to translate, so I’ll help him on the ice and off the ice. Anything he needs.”

[RELATED: Sharks vs. Stars lineup]

No. 48 knows what it’s like to be the new guy on the team and not speak a ton of English, as was the case his own rookie season. Now, in his sixth campaign with Team Teal, he’s offering to make other rookies' adjustments easier. “I was there too, so I know how they’re feeling right now,” he said sympathetically.

Hertl said he tries to have a pre-game talk with Simek, who the Sharks signed to a one-year contract back in spring of 2017. As it turns out, Hertl was there right from the beginning helping the defenseman get settled ahead of him playing for the AHL Barracuda.

“Even last year before he [started playing with the team], he was staying over at my house,” Hertl said. “I got his phone number and the whole thing.”

With the heavy road schedule the Sharks have had so far this season, Simek and Radil have spent more time getting acclimated away from the cozy confines of the South Bay. Hertl said he gives the rookie duo recommendations on where to eat and how the team functions. They’re both getting the hang of things without needing a ton of assistance, Hertl acknowledged, “but anytime they ask, I try to help them.”

That help looks to be helping out on the ice as well. Both skaters look to have successfully brought an extra dose of physicality to San Jose’s game and have registered their first NHL goals since being penciled into the starting lineup in the process. They’re also creating chemistry with their respective linemates – Radil on the Sharks’ fourth line with Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson, and Simek paired up on defense with two-time Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns. Hertl said both skaters a “nice guys” and that he thinks they’re starting to fit in well with the collective group.

Although they’re both rookies, 28-year-old Radil and 26-year-old Simek are older than Hertl. When asked if he felt like a veteran despite his age, Hertl chuckled. “They’re both older than me, but I’ve played here for longer,” he said with a grin. “So, I know a little bit more how it works.”

Surely whatever aid Hertl offers helps Radil and Simek get on the same page as the rest of the team as the Sharks try to notch a couple more victories before Christmas. There are six games to be played before the holiday break, starting with a tough Thursday night rumble with the Dallas Stars.

“We have to play our game for 60 minutes,” Hertl concluded. “We need everybody (playing) tonight, like every game before [the Christmas break]. We need these two points right now.”

Sharks vs. Stars watch guide: Projected lines, defensive pairs


Sharks vs. Stars watch guide: Projected lines, defensive pairs

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks host the Dallas Stars for the third and final time this season, and the message is clear: They need to play a complete game if they want to get the win.

“Just a complete 60 minutes,” coach Peter DeBoer said Thursday morning. “When I look at the two (previous) games, I thought we played really well for large portions of both games but didn’t do it for long enough.”

Added DeBoer about the Stars: “They’re a quick-strike team. They’ve got some real high-end guys there who can make you pay quickly if you make some mistakes or take your foot off the gas. I think that was the story of those two games.”

Dallas won the first two contests of the series, each time by one goal. Team Teal jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in their most recent match on Dec. 7, but the Stars tied things up in the second stanza and added two quick goals in the third to give themselves the edge.

Another big key for Thursday’s game will be to put Dallas on its heels instead.

“If we play our detailed game and frustrate them a little bit, they’ll take a couple penalties,” Tomas Hertl said. “(We need to) just play all 60 minutes. And be ready for them, because they have a lot of skill on offense.”

On the practice front, Joe Thornton missed a second morning skate in a row for undisclosed reasons. DeBoer said No. 19 was feeling better Thursday, but that his status would be a game-time decision.

Sharks projected lines and pairs

Evander Kane – Joe Pavelski – Joonas Donskoi
Tomas Hertl – Logan Couture – Timo Meier
Marcus Sorensen – Joe Thornton – Kevin Labanc
Melker Karlsson – Barclay Goodrow – Lukas Radil

Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Radim Simek – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Erik Karlsson

Martin Jones – projected starter
Aaron Dell

Stars projected lines and pairs

Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov
Valeri Nichushkin – Radek Faksa – Tyler Pitlick
Devin Shore – Jason Spezza – Brett Ritchie
Mattias Janmark – Jason Dickinson – Blake Comeau

Miro Heiskanen – Roman Polak
Esa Lindell – Julius Honka
Joel Hanley – Taylor Fedun

Anton Khudobin – projected starter
Ben Bishop