ONTARIO, Calif. — The San Francisco Bulls stormed to an early 4-1 lead Wednesday night and were about three minutes away from their first road win in team history.
In the waning minutes of the third period, the Bulls’ would-be glorious moment of victory slipped away as the Pacific Division-leading Ontario Reign broke the silence at the Citizens Business Bank Arena, scoring three goals to force overtime before prevailing in a shootout to win the game 5-4.
Bulls captain Justin Bowers lamented the Bulls’ missed opportunity to start their grueling nine-game road trip with a victory:
“Especially since we were up 4-1, it would’ve been huge.”
The Reign wasted no time in showing off their potential to their 7,241 home fans. After right wing Derek Couture stole a Bulls pass, he fed the puck to Reign center C.J. Stretch who slammed home the game’s first goal just 13 seconds into the first period.
Stretch told SFBay that scoring early in the game was something the Reign had talked about:
“Good things happen when you put pucks in the net and we created traffic and luckily it went in. It was a good start to the game.”
The Bulls answered back when defenseman Sacha Guimond found a way to get the puck to Bowers, who knotted up the game 9:30 into the first period with his second goal of the season:
“It was a big goal at the time and after that we started rolling, getting the pucks deep and we played really well after that.”
Matt Carter would slide a penalty shot past Reign goalie Chris Carozzi 14:49 into the first to put the Bulls up 2-1.
San Francisco continued to dominate in the second period with left wing Kris Belan’s first career professional goal at 7:06, making it 3-1.
Then, just 16 seconds into the third period, Bulls’ defenseman Dylan King kept the pressure on with a pass to center Jordan Clendenning who lit the lamp, giving the Bulls a comfortable — perhaps too comfortable — 4-1 lead.
With 16:53 into the third period, Reign right wing Dan DaSilva — assisted by forward Chris Cloud — jammed a goal past Bulls netminder Thomas Heemskerk to cut the Bulls’ lead to 4-2.
Trailing 4-2 and desperate to tie the game with less than two minutes remaining, the Reign pulled Carrozzi for an extra attacker. The strategy would pay off.
Just 1:18 after their second goal, Reign captain Couture scored, followed less than 40 seconds later by teammate Vincent LoVerde’s game-tying goal. Three Reign goals in a 1:57 span would leave the game tied 4-4 at the end of regulation.
The Bulls lost their grip on the game when they failed to control the puck before the Reign scored their second goal in the third period, Bowers told SFBay:
“The last two goals we made a couple of mental errors that allowed them to get possession of the puck. Both times that we made mistakes that allowed them to have those chances.”
A scoreless overtime led to a shootout, in which the Bulls’ Carter scored the first — and only — goal for San Francisco.
Ontario missed their first two shootout tries before DaSilva, Colton Yellow Horn and Chris Huxley went for the kill with three straight tallies.
Bulls head coach Pat Curcio would not comment after the loss. Reign head coach Jason Christie, though, would praise the Bulls’ play after the game:
“San Francisco played a good game. We were playing at the perimeter in the first two periods.”
A disappointed Carter told SFBay after the game:
“There’s nothing to be said. We know what we did wrong and we’re paying the price for it. So we need to come out in Bakersfield and play solid for 60 minutes.”
The Bulls will have a chance to redeem themselves Friday and Saturday night in a back-to-back at the Bakersfield Condors. The team is just beginning a punishing nine-game through Southern California, Alaska, Colorado, and then back to Ontario.
Ironically, the Bulls’ long road trip is necessitated by the Grand National Rodeo — and actual four-legged, non-hockey playing bulls — occupying the Cow Palace for the next two consecutive weekends.
Justin Bowers is tied for the league lead with six points (2 goals, 4 assists). Sacha Guimond and Jordan Clendenning are tied for the rookie lead in points with four each. Defenseman Mikael Tam was called up to the Worcester Sharks of the AHL Wednesday after starting the Bulls’ first two games.