The San Francisco Bulls hit the ice Friday night in Anchorage looking confident, showing none of the jitters perhaps expected of a first-year franchise.
Skating onto the oversized rink at Sullivan Arena for their first-ever playoff game, the Bulls matched the Alaska Aces check-for-check and rush-for-rush.
It lasted about the first five minutes.
After that, the Aces looked every bit of the 106-point, Branbam Cup-winning squad that they are, outskating, outshooting, and ultimately outscoring the Bulls 5-1 en route to a first-round Kelly Cup playoff victory.
In the opening minutes, Thomas Heemskerk would make a big stop on Aces defenseman Sean Curry, and a Dean Ouellet centering pass would bounce over the stick of Brent Findlay on an early try against Alaska goalie Gerald Coleman.
Gary Nunn would break the seal at 8:48 of the first period on a give-and-go with Evan Trupp. Skating down the left side, Nunn would feed Trupp, who mishandled the pass but recovered and fed the charging Nunn who beat Heemskerk five-hole. Kane LaFranchise would also pick up an assist.
Nunn would ignite several Aces chances in the first period, including a shot from the right circle that beat Heemskerk stick-side but deflected ominously off the left post.
Kris Belan would pick up the first penalty at 11:52 of the opening period. Though the Bulls would kill off the tripping minor, the power play would end with tempers flaring after a massive scrum around Heemskerk’s net.
Aces forward Alex Hudson would take exception to Bulls captain Scott Langdon holding him down in front of the crease by the back of his neck. Hudson was able to extract himself, and broke away from the pack with Langdon as the two exchanged punches before hitting the ice.
On his way to the penalty box, Langdon threw up a Bull’s horns symbol with his fingers.
Discipline and not picking up penalties was one of Bulls head coach Pat Curcio’s keys to the game. The Bulls, though, would pick up eight minor penalties Friday night, leaving themselves too exhausted to defend against the talented Aces.
After killing off an Alaska penalty to begin the 2nd period, a sloppy clearing pass from Brett Findlay to Antoine Corbin was taken away by Bobby Hughes, who skated right in and blasted a shot on Heemskerk to put Alaska up 2-0.
The Aces would go on another power play after a slashing call to Christian Ouellet.
Curling behind the net, Bobby Hughes would slip a pass through the crease to a wide open Alexandre Imbeault, who would slap home a shot from just inside the left faceoff-circle.
By the time the Aces tallied their fourth goal at 4:36 in the second, the Bulls were tired and on their heels. Zach Harrison skated in unchallenged from the blue line, and squared up for a shot that ran Heemskerk from the game.
Taylor Nelson would step into goal for the Bulls after Heemskerk turned away 24 of 28 Aces shots on goal. Alaska would total 40 shots to the Bulls’ 21 on the night.
Alaska rookie Andy Taranto — in his home debut after joining the team from Alaska-Fairbanks University — would pick up the Aces’ fifth and goal on a power play at 11:13 in the third period, assisted by Imbeault and Corey Syvret.
The third period wouldn’t end without the Bulls venting some frustration. Rob Kwiet and Tommy Grant would both pick up game misconducts after arguing with referee Joe Sullivan over a Kwiet roughing penalty against Harrison.
Flying around the ice from the first minutes of the contest, Belan would get the only tally for San Francisco with an unassisted shorthanded goal at 14:20 in the third.
Unsurprisingly, Belan was also mixed up in a flurry of penalties to close the game. After charging the net, Belan would brush with Coleman, whose teammates quickly stepped in to protect their netminder and shove Belan to the ice.
From there, Scott Langdon and 6-foot-7 Brett Ponich would take over, with the pair trading blows along the glass sure to give both something to think about for tomorrow’s game.
With the Aces leading the first-round series 1-0, these two clubs square off again tomorrow at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage at 8:15 p.m.