Bulls bounce back with Stockton smackdown

COW PALACE — You didn’t have to wait until Sunday afternoon for the San Jose Sharks’ opener to get a hockey fix.

5,618 screaming fans would pack into the Cow Palace on Saturday night to watch the San Francisco Bulls defeat their Northern California rival, the Stockton Thunder, in an action-packed, controversy-laden, come-from-behind 4-2 showdown.

It would be only the second time this season that the Bulls would win after being scored on first. And a win was very much needed, considering the Thunder got the jump on them nearly 24 hours earlier with a 5-2 win in Stockton.

The home crowd got its first look at newly-acquired forward Christian Ouellet and defenseman Cody Carlson as they helped the Bulls to victory. Defenseman Rob Kwiet, who would contribute two assists of his own in the win, talked about working with the new guys on the team:

“They’ve done real well. A lot of them have come in with a good attitude, and they just want to learn. We’ve gone over a lot of systems this week, and we took it slower through practice, kind of trying to get them adapted to our systems.”

Stockton would strike first, late in the first period with an up-close shot by Mike Little at 15:36.

Fed up with trailing this foe, the Bulls took advantage of a power play to get on the board early in the second. At 2:11, Kwiet would feed the puck to rally-starter Peter Sivak, who shot the puck past Thunder goalie Cody Reichard to tie the game 1-1. Kris Belan would also pick up an assist.

Then, at 5:26, right wing Jonathan Lessard snapped a rebound past Reichard for his first goal in a Bulls uniform, with help from Kwiet and Jordan Morrison, to give the home team the 2-1 advantage.

The Thunder would not score in the second, thanks to prime goaltending from Taylor Nelson. Nelson had left the previous night’s game early after Stockton had taken an early lead. Needless to say, Nelson was not going to let that happen two nights in a row, as he stopped 32 of Stockton’s 34 shots.

Curcio talked about Nelson’s work ethic and fight to come back from the previous night’s loss:

“I had a feeling some good things had to happen for Taylor, he made some amazing saves tonight. He really deserves first star and all the credit.”

A raucous third period would kick off defensively, as the Bulls would kill their third of four penalties of the game. New kid Carlson would slide on his belly like a seal to block a shot from getting to Nelson and the net.

Curcio talked about getting Carlson and other new Bulls acquainted to the team:

“I just wanted them to get to know us, to get to know our franchise, and what we’re all about. We’re all about passion. We want people to know us, our identity, to be a team that’s passionate and does anything for a win. The new guys did that tonight, when Cody slid and when Christian Ouellet blocked that shot. You know, that’s what it takes. This is a hell of a league. … I’m proud of the way they battled tonight.”

Into the third period, a shot by Stockton’s Harrison Reed would be called a no goal. But play would stop at 12:48 and the refs would reverse the call, ruling on the goal in favor of Stockton to tie the game 2-2.

A very angry Bulls team would retaliate, as Kris Belan would slam the puck in the Thunder’s net at 15:56 to help San Francisco regain the lead, 3-2. Lessard and Jordan Clendenning would pick up assists.

Nelson and the Bulls defense would continue to keep the Thunder from scoring again. A last-minute decision by Stockton to pull Reichard would spin well for San Francisco, as Morrison shot on the empty net with help from Dean Ouellet. The Bulls sealed the 4-2 victory with three seconds left in regulation.

The Bulls face off against the Thunder in Stockton Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. before getting some time off for the ECHL All-Star break. Rookie Dean Ouellet and his 18 goals and 15 assists will represent the Bulls as the ECHL All-Stars take on the hosting Colorado Eagles in Loveland, Colo.

The Bulls will head north for a three-game stand in Alaska starting Friday. They return to the Cow Palace Thursday, January 31 to take on the always-competitive Ontario Reign. The puck drops at 7:15 p.m.