The San Francisco Bulls are headed into a three game weekend, having won their last two games after a grueling road trip (4-5-1-0). They will play two games Friday and Saturday against the Idaho Steelheads before taking on the Ontario Reign for a Sunday matinee. Their recent success can be attributed in part to playing a more disciplined hockey game and hard work on the power play. They scored two power play goals against one of the top penalty killing units in the Western Conference, the Stockton Thunder this past week. Dean Ouellet, who hadn’t scored a goal on the road, opened the gates at the home opener with one goal at home and another one on the power play in Stockton. The team as a whole is beginning to find out who they are and to believe in their abilities to score goals. Mindset and confidence are keys to success on the ice and an aggressive forecheck can get pucks in the back of the net according to Head Coach Pat Curcio.
“If you look at our goals that we’ve scored, most of them have been off a good forecheck and I think that we could be better. I think we have got speed and tenacious players that should be able to get in on the forecheck and get in behind their defence.”
This week’s practice has highlighted his feelings about the importance of a strong forecheck particularly since the Cow Palace ice is a slightly smaller sheet than other rinks in the ECHL. The smaller ice means things happen faster so the idea is that if you get the pucks in the zone and forecheck hard it gives the team some opportunity in front of the net to score goals.
Curcio also stressed the importance of being disciplined and not taking too many penalties during their weekend series against both the Idaho Steelheads and the Ontario Reign, who played against one another on Wednesday night, the Reign winning in overtime.
“For us at home, we have to be disciplined. We can’t give them power play opportunities. Last night they (Idaho Steelheads) scored 3 power play goals, so the least amount of power play opportunity for them, the better off we will be.”
Staying out of the box was a key component to the close game against Ontario in which they lost 2-0 but held the Reign off the scoreboard till the tail end of the first period. They did not allow another goal until the empty netter scored by Dan DeSIlva with just 18 seconds left on the clock. Their home opener against the Bakersfield Condors showed the same tightly disciplined game.
In addition to good discipline, chemistry and timing are crucial for a team to generate a buzz around the net. The Bulls have a deep pool of forward talent in returnees Jordan Morrison, Dean Ouellet and Kris Belan,, Sharks imports Chris Crane and Riley Brace, and in the recent influx of Mark Lee, Dale Mitchell and Ryan McDonough, all who spent last season overseas.
Chris Crane, a San Jose Sharks product recorded his first multipoint game versus Stockton and seems to be in all the right places to make things happen around the net. He said it was difficult to start the season out on an 18-day road trip and that it is not the easiest time to be on top of your game but now that they are home things are different.
“Everyone is just starting to gel. We are ten games into the season now so the chemistry is starting, you get a little bit better, and you are working hard every day in practice and it’s working out.”
For Crane, he is still making the adjustment from college to pro and the difference in the number of games and the schedule takes some getting used to. He ended last season with the Worcester Sharks, playing 8 games after spending three seasons with Ohio State. He says he is still trying to figure out how to adjust, but his main focus has been keeping his body healthy and maintaining it so that he is prepared every night.
The Bulls points leader can be found in Mark Lee, who spent the last five seasons playing overseas. He said it’s been an adjustment, especially since he had been away for so long. “In the smaller arena things happen a little quicker and it seems that they are more on top of you right away as with Europe it’s a little bit more of a thinking game. You strategize a little bit more and pick your spots, when to forecheck and when to stay back, there is a little more patience. “ Playing in Finland meant that he was still playing the North American Style hockey, which helped him with the adjustment here.
When asked about his hot start, he chuckled and said, “As a matter of fact to be honest with you I don’t think I’ve produced enough yet. I’ve always been known as a point guy and had some success in this league years ago, before I moved on to Europe. I was successful in this league, I’ve always been a point-a-game guy.”
It is clear that Dale Mitchell and him click on the ice. They move as a unit and complement one another’s playing style. When asked about sharing the ice with Mitchell, Lee said, “Dale is one of those players, he works so hard. He’s an emotional guy like myself. He’s got great speed and a touch around the net and I’m known to be more of a passer and to think the game pretty well and see the ice so we complement each other pretty well. At first it took a little time to get used to each other and as of late it was starting to get real fun.” Injury to Mitchell during the home opener has sidelined their budding on-ice relationship for now, but the early signs show a goal powerhouse in the duo that Bulls fans can look forward to once Dale is back in the lineup.
For now, Mark Lee is finding success around the net and hopes to contribute even more for his team. He thinks his team as a whole is finding their peak, both in terms of physical shape and their chemistry with one another. He realizes that the game is about confidence and he knows that “when you got it you have to roll with it and when you don’t you just got to keep fighting till you get it back.” Could be a motto for the Bulls.
In the span of a week the Bulls lost three forwards to injury and call-ups. Ryan McDonough was the first to go, taking a check to the head in the last game against the Reign. He was just placed on the 21 day IR, dealing with concussion symptoms. Dale Mitchell, second in points for the team, injured his back as he crashed the Bakersfield net during the home opener, and has now been moved to the 21 day IR list. Riley Brace returned to Worcester after playing two games with the Bulls and recording one assist. The Bulls have just picked up Forward Kyle Bodie from the Cincinnati Cyclones in exchange for future considerations.