Photos by Mike Hendrickson/SFBay
COW PALACE — If ugly trends are meant to be broken, the San Francisco Bulls should be the poster children for kicking bad habits to the curb.
So many home games in their 2014 campaign have been marred by penalty-laden second periods. But San Francisco put that to rest Friday night, overcoming a three-goal deficit and notching four goals in less than two minutes.
And that was just a sliver of the excitement in the Bulls raucous 6-5 overtime victory over the rival Alaska Aces.
The key the big turnaround after a less-than-stellar opening frame? Head coach Pat Curcio said that it had a lot to do with players stepping up and taking control:
“You really have to give credit to our leaders tonight. Dale Mitchell, Jordan Morrison and Dean Ouellet were outstanding. They really took control of the game.”
All three of said players scored two goals a piece in the win, which was even sweeter against the division-leading Aces, who have no love loss for the Bulls. Morrison explained the rivalry:
“Alaska’s an elite team. Everyone wants to knock them off their perch and we’re no different. We played against them in the playoffs last year, so (that’s why) there’s a grudge match there.”
The Bulls didn’t get off on the right foot — er, skate? — with Eli Zuck getting the jump on Tyler Beskorowany 18 seconds into the game. Tommy Mele and former Bulls winger Peter Sivak notched assists as the Aces took an early 1-0 lead.
Sivak would punish his old team again. On San Francisco’s first power play attempt of the evening he got the puck and a clean break, laying Beskorowany out flat and increasing the visitors’ lead 2-0.
Not even two minutes later, Ross Ring-Jarvi fed the puck to Drew Mackenzie, who sent the puck to the back of SF’s net to put the home team in the hole 3-0.
Curcio sighed as he recalled the conversation in the dressing room during the first intermission:
“It was pretty emotional. We came in, we made it heartfelt … I think the emotions spilled over.”
Ouellet described that same moment from the players’ perspective:
“Our first period was terrible. The effort wasn’t there, and I think that was unacceptable. I think between periods the boys decided that we needed to play better.”
And after a very tilted first period, the Bulls came onto the ice a much more aggressive team.
Morrison started them off with a backhanded shot that beat Gerald Coleman on the right side to get the Bulls on the board 3-1 with 11:11 left in the stanza. Findlay and Mitchell registered assists.
Just 46 seconds later, Mitchell notched a power play goal with a one-timer up in the blue paint to cut the deficit down 3-2. Ouellet and Eriks Sevcenko assisted.
And 13 seconds after that, Findlay fed the puck to Mitchell to beat Coleman again to tie things up 3-3.
As if that wasn’t enough, Ouellet got the beat on Coleman to put the Bulls ahead 4-3 just 32 seconds later. Sebastian Stalberg and Riley Brace—loaned from the Worcester Sharks earlier in the week—tallied assists.
The four-goal rally made for a very happy Bulls bench, Morrison explained:
“It was a great feeling, getting them bang-bang-bang like that. It’s definitely a momentum change, and I think their goalie felt them as well.”
Tim Coffman retaliated on behalf of the Aces, going top shelf and tying the game back up 4-4.
But the tie didn’t last long. Beskorowany pitched the puck up the side of the ice and Morrison carried it up the middle, and tipped the puck into Alaska’s net for the second time that night. Mitchell also registered an assist as San Francisco retook the lead 5-4 before the period was over.
Beskorowany summed up San Francisco’s overall attitude adjustment in that second frame:
“We definitely came out in the second with a fire under us. And it felt good to take the lead for once and keep going with it … I really tried to focus more. It’s tough being down three (goals) after the first, and trying to come out and regaining your focus and whatnot. I really did try to come back and battle … I knew if I just shut the door and give our team a chance to win that we would capitalize.”
The Aces kept things interesting as Sivak beat Beskorowany with help from Mele, locking the game back up 5-5. Alaska threatened to score again with a five-on-three power play attempt, but the Bulls’ penalty-kill unit cleared the puck time and again to keep the opponent at bay.
Curcio said of that penalty kill:
“It’s the reason why we won the game … They’re tough to give up but, it’s even better when you kill them. That was a big momentum swing for us.”
Morrison, who was out on the ice for a good part of the penalty kill, elaborated:
“That was a huge kill. They tried to get us down. Hasn’t happened to us too much this year, killing a 5-on-3, it’s usually a game-changer and more often (not good) for us. It’s probably the TSN turning point for us.”
The deadlocked score carried through the end of regulation. But Ouellet wouldn’t let that last long, getting a hold of Morrison’s rebound and lining it past a laid-out Coleman to seal the 6-5 finish.
Final comments from Ouellet on that victory goal? The forward smiled and shrugged:
“I didn’t do much on that, to be honest! It was all Jordan Morrison there. He just used his speed and made a nice move, and all of the (Aces) were on him. And I think he fell, and made a second effort because he saw me there. And I had a wide-open net, so I didn’t have to do much.”
The San Francisco Bulls host the Alaska Aces in the rubber match Saturday at the Cow Palace. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.