The ice is returning to the Cow Palace and the Bulls return for their sophomore season in San Francisco. The Bulls ended their inaugural season of 2012-13 making it to the first round of the ECHL playoffs, and over the summer they renewed their affiliation with the San Jose Sharks, a relationship that is already bearing fruit for the team’s compete level.
The Bulls will have some familiar faces to start out the year. A gritty core of Captain Scott Langdon, Dylan King and Kris Belan will return for a second season with the team. Christian Ouellet, who made a scoring impact with the Bulls late in the season, is also back in San Francisco. Finesse players Jordan Morrison and Dean Ouellet, who initially began the season playing overseas in Kazakhstan, left their hearts in San Francisco and decided to rejoin the team after a lengthy and convincing phone call from Head Coach Pat Curcio. Brett Findlay a talented young forward who joined the Bulls right before the playoff push last season is back to the Bulls as well. These returnees will keep the team strong even when players rotate in and out through call-ups. Coach Curcio says this core group of talent will help cement the identity of the team and help mentor the new players coming in, something the team didn’t have in its inaugural season.
“I’m real excited about the new group of guys and with the guys that are returning from last year. It takes a lot off our plates as coaches. Last year we had to show everyone everything. Now the core guys, they have the experience and we can tell them, and they can pass it on to the new guys so it’s real nice to have.”
The Bulls will also have a depth of talent down from the Sharks Organization, players that need to improve and refine their skill and a bit more development to be successful at the next level. Forwards Chris Crane and Ryan McDonough and defensemen Kyle Bigos, Steven Tarasuk, and Collin Bowman as well as goalie J.P. Anderson have joined the Bulls to start the season.
With the affiliation cemented, Coach Curcio and Assistant Coach Kyle Paige attended both NHL and AHL training camps. They are also on weekly phone calls with the Coaches from both Worcester and San Jose to make sure that they are sending the same message and keeping consistency with the systems they are implementing at each level. The renewed affiliation gave several players opportunities to attend Worcester’s training camp at the end of September. Forwards Kris Belan, Christian Ouellet, Brett Findlay and Luke Judson and defenseman Josh Kidd along with new goaltender Tyler Beskorowany participated in this year’s AHL camp. Belan, who played 8 games with the Manchester Monarchs last season, his first call-up to the AHL remarked that the experience is invaluable.
“That’s everyone’s goal is to get to the next level so getting to skate with the team and getting a couple games in was a great experience. It was a good learning curve for me. I know what I need to do. They told me on my exit meeting, what they liked about me and what I need to work on. It’s a good measuring point for where I need to be and where I want to go.”
For Christian Ouellet, it was his first experience up at an AHL level camp and it gave him perspective on what it might take to play up and the difficulty in trying to get a spot.
“It was a really good experience for me. Its fast and I think I played good but there are the guys with contracts so it’s hard to break in to the team. With the affiliation, if I keep playing good I could get called up to play up there, but it was a good experience for me and I’m happy to have had it.”
With the Bulls Organization more established both as a team and its Sharks affiliation, it is an attractive place to play for young players looking to get a start. Curcio has been hard at work to bring in more offensive clout to the Bulls lineup. Curcio has been hard at work to bring in more offensive clout to the lineup this season.
“There’s a lot of skill, guys that will provide some offense and be exciting to watch. We’ve got some real young hungry players that want to make it to the next level, so that makes their compete level and their will to succeed much higher so, I really like what I see so far.”
Training camp and preseason games at any level gives the players a chance to get their head back in the game after a long summer and the coaches an opportunity to build the team playing style and identity. Curcio uses preseason play to establish
“…how we want to forecheck and how we want to play in the d-zone and all these different areas. That’s a big part of what we want to do this week and its what we are going to use these games for to teach how we want to play. “
For Kris Belan, coming back to the West Coast is a bit of an adjustment after spending a long summer home in Ontario. For him, especially since he is returning to the same team, the preseason is more about settling in to a routine and meeting the new guys coming in to the team.
“The transition was easier this year because obviously we were here last year, so you know your way around the town and what it’s like at practice. It definitely is a little bit easier and with all the new guys coming in they’re asking questions, ‘how do we go here, what’s it like’ I like helping the boys out and making the transition easier for everyone.”
As far as his play goes, he wants to make sure that he keeps doing what he was doing at the end of last year. It’s the reason why Coach brought him back, his attention to the simple things that make him successful out on the ice.
With a strong group of returning players, skill down from both Worcester and San Jose and a promising group of young talent ready to prove themselves, the second season for the San Francisco Bulls is shaping up very differently than their inaugural start. One thing they can’t shake from last season is the long road trip to start the season. Their home opener is not until November 8th, before they will have spent three weeks out on the road as their home barn is literally turned into a barn for the Grand National Rodeo. Cowboys and real bulls will fill the Cow Palace while the team travels to Alaska to open the 2014-2014 season. Curcio acknowledges that this is a rough way to start a season but he is confident that the team can use it to build character.
“I think we can become better for it if don’t use it as an excuse. If we try to go out and win some games over the course of the road period and we come back with a winning record and then get some home games under our belt. I think that a good start is important for us.”
Both Belan and Ouellet see the improvement in the level of players the team has put together for this season. Belan says “I think we have a really good squad, I’m excited to finally get the season going… I think we are going to be really competitive this year.” They both want to do everything they can to be successful and Ouellet is ready to contribute where he is needed.
“I want to do everything I can, I want to help the team to win the games. If everybody does that then we have a chance to win and some guys get called up. I just want to play good every day 100 percent.”
The San Francisco Bulls will begin with three preseason games, two home and one away against the Bakersfield Condors and the Stockton Thunder. The regular season begins on October 18th when the Bulls travel to take on the Alaska Aces in Anchorage. Their first home game is Friday November 8th when they take on the Bakersfield Condors at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, CA.