ONTARIO, Calif. — The San Francisco Bulls ended their brutal nine-game road trip just the way they started it: Facing and falling to the Ontario Reign.
Only this time, the Bulls never had the lead, losing 3-1 to the home Reign, who currently lead the Pacific division of the ECHL’s western conference.
The Reign would strike first, 12:45 into the opening period. Former San Jose Sharks right wing Devin Setoguchi made his Reign debut with an assist, skating down the middle and feeding the puck to Vincent LoVerde who deflected it off a Bulls defenseman for the goal.
Bulls goalie Thomas Heemskerk, who said he tried to challenge the offense by coming out of his net, said the play:
“happened fast. (LoVerde) ended up putting it off a player’s skate, so it was kind of unfortunate.”
After a scoreless first period, San Francisco got on the board when team captain Justin Bowers fed forward Jordan Morrison, who set up right wing Peter Sivak to rip a one-timer from inside the blue line 55 seconds into the middle period.
Ontario would retake a 2-1 lead 8:53 into the second, when defenseman Paul Mara got the puck in the air to forward Jason Beeman, who tipped it in past Heemskerk.
Then just about 3 minutes later, Setoguchi again demonstrated his NHL pedigree, passing to left wing Colton Yellow Horn who found right wing Dan DaSilva for a deflection that put the Reign up 3-1.
Said Heemskerk of Ontario’s third goal:
“I think we failed to get out of our zone. He used his player and our D-man as a screen and I couldn’t pick it up until it was too late.”
The third period, though spent primarily in the Reign’s defensive zone, didn’t change the scoreboard. The Reign skated to a four-game winning streak while sealing a seven-game losing streak for the Bulls.
In the locker room area, Bulls head coach Pat Curcio told SFBay:
“Every loss is tough to swallow, and a 7-game losing streak is even tougher. I don’t want to make excuses, but we can’t find a way to get on a routine.”
The long road trip has had its toll on the team, Curcio said, and for now, the Bulls:
“… just have to find ways to play well in 60 minutes and break this streak.”
Spectators at the arena – a Reign season low attendance of 5,108 – started leaving their seats with a few minutes still left in the game. It was quite the opposite of the last Bulls visit to Ontario three weeks ago, when the Bulls took a 4-1 lead in the final minutes of the third period, only to be tied by the Reign with 1:57 remaining, then losing in a 5-4 shootout.
Said Heemskerk of the two encounters with the Reign:
“The first one was very tough. This one was no better, having lost 7 in a row. No loss is good, they all feel the same.”
Turning their fortunes around won’t be easy for the Bulls, even though five of their next six games are back home at the Cow Palace. They face the Stockton Thunder — second in the Pacific Division — Friday at 7:15 p.m., then the Reign twice again, first at home on Saturday at 7:15 p.m. , then back in Ontario Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Though the Reign lead the division, Ontario head coach Jason Christie doesn’t anticipate their next two games with the defeated Bulls will be a breeze:
“Obviously they’re searching for a win and they’re coming out hard, so we’ve got to step up our game too.”
Added Reign center C.J. Stretch:
“Nothing is easy in hockey, so we’re going to keep doing the same thing as we did tonight.”
For Curcio, scoring that much-needed win means it may be worthwhile to go back to the basics:
“There’s an old saying in hockey that you have to play whistle to whistle. And we didn’t do that throughout all our games on the road trip.”
Friday’s game at the Cow Palace against Stockton will be the Bulls’ first home game since Oct. 13. Evan Barlow failed to score for the first time in four games, ending a season-long streak. Thomas Heemskerk stopped 33 of Ontario’s 36 shots, bouncing back after giving up nine goals over two games last weekend. Edmonton Oilers defenseman Theo Peckham took his first ice time as a Bull, logging one shot in his debut.