COW PALACE — It was starting to look a little more like a St. Patty’s-themed homecoming party than a Saturday night hockey game at the Cow Palace.
But in their first matchup since two player swaps that split these squads down the middle, the San Francisco Bulls would keep it high-octane and ultra-competitive as they held off the Utah Grizzlies to win 6-5 in a shootout.
In addition to being the first time that players like Jordan Clendenning and Alex Tuckerman would play against the Bulls, the game would help the Bulls hold the eighth and final spot in the ECHL Western Conference playoff run.
It wouldn’t just be the players and fans with a conflicted reaction over facing off against old friends.
President and Head Coach Pat Curcio addressed the emotional strain that came along with seeing those familiar faces on the other team:
“It was hard to put it away. It was a tough scenario for us, I know it had been weighing on our minds for a long time. We’ll be happy to battle through tomorrow’s game and get it out of the way.”
And for the players that were returning for the first time? Clendenning responded:
“It was a little bit different at first. When I got the puck I had to take a second look to make sure I was giving it to the right team. But it was definitely a pretty cool experience.”
Clendenning would kick off the homecoming by getting put in the penalty box for holding at 2:25 into the first period. But it would be the Grizzlies that would capitalize on the Bulls’ power play, with a shorthanded goal by Adam Estoclet to put Utah ahead 1-0 at 3:01 in the first.
It didn’t take long after that for team captain Scott Langdon to drop his gloves and spar with Utah’s T.J. Battani. While it would be his only big fight for the night, Langdon did get to — good natured-ly, of course — knock some of his former teammates around a bit:
“I hit Clendenning pretty good. . . Tuckerman, I almost killed. He’s going to say that he jumped out of the way and dangled me, but at the end of the day we both know that he almost died.”
San Francisco would find themselves on the power play again at 7:22, courtesy of — drumroll, please — former Bull Tuckerman. The Bulls would not, however, be able to score on the one-man advantage.
But the Bulls would get even at 17:32, as Kory Falite would feed Peter Sivak for a beautiful shot over Ben Meisner’s shoulder and into the back of the net.
It would be The Most Interesting Bull In The World’s 32nd goal of the season. The 1-1 tie would carry into the first intermission with Utah edging the Bulls in shots 9-8.
The Bulls would take the lead at 6:42 in the second. Former Grizzly — are we seeing a trend here? — Bryan Cameron and Tristan King would pass the puck back and forth before Cameron would knock it over Meisner’s left shoulder. Dean Ouellet would also pick up an assist.
Curcio talked about Cameron’s level of talent, beyond the goal, post-game:
“He’s a great hockey player. He’s got so much skill. That’s why he’s on an NHL contract, somebody sees his talent and we’re fortunate to have him in there.”
A hungry Utah squad would put pressure on Taylor Nelson towards the end of the second period. Grizzly Berkley Scott would post up in the blue paint and knock the goal past Nelson to tie the game 2-2 at 17:34.
Sivak wouldn’t let the tie stand for long, charging Utah’s net and rocketing the puck to the back of the net at 17:54 for his second of the night and 33rd overall.
Hopefully fans didn’t blink during the third period, because they would have missed Utah tie things up yet again, with a Colin Vock goal at 8:28 to bring the score to 3-3.
But at 9:40, former Grizzly Kory Falite would aid Jordan Morrison in knocking the puck past Meisner, putting San Francisco ahead 4-3.
Utah would surge back again at 10:51, when Estoclet would get his second of the night to tie the game up 4-4.
A few minutes later, Christian Ouellet would get the puck from Morrison and tally a shorthanded goal at 13:20 to give San Francisco the 5-4 advantage.
Then, with 1:46 left in regulation, Utah’s Ryan Howse would beat Nelson to tie the game back up 5-5
Seem like a lot of action? It was, and it was fast.
Neither team would score again, taking the game into 4-on-4 overtime play. Despite aggressive play on both sides of the puck, neither team could break through in overtime, and the rumble continued into a shootout.
Bryan Cameron and Dean Ouellet would both knock pucks in to give the Bulls the 6-5 victory.
Langdon summed up the big game:
“It’s fun playing against them, but the same time we have a job to do. We just had a good, clean, fun hockey game. And that’s what I look forward to.”
The Bulls continue against the Grizzlies in a Sunday matinée packed with playoff importance. The puck drops at the Cow Palace at 2:15 p.m.