Photos by Benjamin Kamps/SFBay
COW PALACE — It started just a few minutes into regulation, when defensman Kyle Bigos took a puck to the mouth and collapsed to the ice, gloves flying off his hands as he went to cup his jaw.
The shot to the face tore into the side of the rookie’s mouth. It was so gruesome, even, that Bulls head coach Pat Curcio likened him to a familiar movie villain:
“It’s not pretty. He looks like the Joker right now… And you’re never the same after a hit like that.”
After that, the tone was set for a hard-hitting and penalty-laden matchup between the San Francisco Bulls and Idaho Steelheads. And despite once again taking an early lead, it finished another frustrating bout for the home team, who fell 3-1.
Saturday night was a hard loss to swallow, especially when Curcio really liked how hard his team worked:
“It’s hard to be mad with the team. You hate to lose but, I thought we played a good hockey game. We had every opportunity to win… What hurt us at the end was that we were out of gas. … At the end of the day, when you kill seven or eight penalties and guys are sitting on the bench, it takes a lot out of you… I didn’t like the flow of the game.”
On the Bulls’ first power play attempt of the night, Chris Crane launched the puck from the Steelheads blue line and it coasted diagonally past goaltender Josh Robinson’s view and into Idaho’s net. Damon Kipp and Brett Findlay tallied assists on Crane’s third goal of the season which put San Francisco on top 1-0 in the first.
Idaho upped the pressure on J.P. Anderson, who got the start between the pipes Saturday while Tyler Beskorowany took a breather.
But Anderson, along with the Bulls’ defense and special teams, killed three penalties and kept the Steelheads from getting on the board in the opening stanza.
The Bulls’ penalty kill was one thing about the game that Curcio was particularly happy with:
“Our PK tonight was back to where I had expected it to be (at the beginning of the season.) They were doing the right things. They were picking up the right guys, they were staying square.”
Both teams came unraveled in the next 20 minutes of play, peppering the second period with penalties; the teams racked up seven total penalties in those twenty minutes alone.
But the penalty trouble didn’t stop the Steelheads from getting on the scoreboard. In the middle of a line change right after coming off the 5-on-3 kill with 9:21 left in the period, Idaho’s Justin Mercier fired the puck past Anderson to tie the game 1-1.
Not two minutes later, while on the Steelheads’ seventh power play attempt of the evening, William Rapuzzi lined the puck to the back of San Francisco’s net to give the visitors a 2-1 lead. Curcio commented on the go-ahead power play goal:
“It’s just Murphy’s Law… In this league, in any pro league, if you take six or seven power plays or penalty kills, you’re going to give up some goals. There’s no question.”
The Bulls put eight shots on goal in the third period and had plenty of good looks, but it was the Steelheads who scored again, with an unassisted goal by Carl Sneep that solidified the visitor’s 3-1 victory.
Curcio was complimentary of Anderson’s efforts:
“It seems like, poor J.P. every time he plays we can’t find the net for him… He gives us a chance to win. To get his first pro win it’s going to be a grind it seems like. We go to Ontario, he played great, we couldn’t score a goal. The game before that in Colorado, we were 1-1 late, we couldn’t find the back of the net and then they score a goal that he had no chance on and we lose with the empty net. We’re going to get him more starts, he’s going to get a win here.”
San Francisco has a quick turnaround too, closing the weekend with a Sunday afternoon game. Curcio said:
“I like our team, I really do. … We’ve got to find a way to get two points tomorrow and that makes the weekend a .500 weekend, and that’s what we need to do.”
The Bulls will face the Ontario Reign Sunday, with puck drop scheduled for 2:15 p.m.