Take away the extravagance of the San Francisco Bulls home opener, and take a look at the team that was out on the ice Friday night.
Strip away the screaming crowd, ringing cowbells, and fireworks sparking out of the cube that hangs above center ice, and focus solely on the team that won that night’s game.
One thing is for sure: This isn’t the same Bulls team we saw last season.
We aren’t just talking about how the roster has changed from last season to this one — although that is definitely a factor. What we have so far this young season is a hockey team that skates faster and looks smarter.
Bulls Opening night: Full coverage and photo gallery
Following the 2-1 victory over the Bakersfield Condors, Bulls head coach Pat Curcio addressed a few things that made this Bulls team different from the inaugural season team, particularly the level of discipline that was lacking during the 2012-2013 campaign:
“If you look at all my notes, ‘discipline’ is always at the top of the list. And when I talk about discipline, it’s not just about penalties. It’s about playing the right way. You’re not going to beat guys one-on-three, you’re not going to beat guys at the blue line, you’re not going to beat guys at center. If you watch the National Hockey League, the reason why those guys are there is because they do the right things all the time. … If you do things consistently the right why, that’s going to give us the best chance.”
It was evident in both of San Francisco’s goals against Bakersfield, the first from vet Dean Ouellet and the second from newcomer Kyle Bigos. Both goals were clean, yet very aggressive. More disciplined.
A great example of this newfound style of play comes in the form of new guy Dale Mitchell, the team’s current offensive leader.
Even though Mitchell was taken out of the home opener with a back spasm, he still led the team with seven shots on goal for the night.
When talking about Mitchell, the coach drew comparison between the six-foot-five defenseman and a former high-scoring Bull:
“It’s a tough chore to replace Peter Sivak. But I think Dale Mitchell is as close to as its going to come to replace (Sivak) in that department. You saw his speed and his skill. Sivak would get six-to-seven or eight shots a night, and that’s what Mitchell has been doing.”
This new-era Bulls squad is also getting more leadership from between the pipes, thanks to its starting goaltender Tyler Beskorowany.
Coming off a season where they had a hard time consistently keeping a healthy starter in goal, Curcio says No. 34 is a “calming factor,” even playing a bit of a coaching role:
“Last game (versus the Ontario Reign) he was on the bench. I missed something, I was talking to a player and I looked down. He knew what I was looking for and right away he stood up and said ‘This was so-and-so’s guy and here’s what happened.’ You can’t replace that. It’s almost like having another coach out there. He’s special, we’re lucky to have him.”
It doesn’t hurt that the 23-year-old from Sudbury, Ontario told SFBay he enjoys a heavy work load:
“It’s the start of the year, you’ve got to be ready for that kind of stuff. … Right now I love the work load. I find that it keeps me in the game, all the shots. I enjoy it.”
We will be able to see San Francisco work even harder at perfecting this new style of play at home, now that the Bulls have the month-long roadie behind them.
Starting off the season on the road definitely effects how the team functions, Curcio explained:
“It’s hard for a lot of people to understand playing on the road, and playing at home. A lot of players they need that home confidence. The scoring, and breaking the zero in your stat column. And that confidence builds so it gives you more confidence on the road. But when you’re starting on the road and you never get that opportunity, it’s hard.”