Last night I headed up to the Cow Palace for the first ever game in the SF Bulls history. I should have been watching the Sharks take on the Ducks for their season opener, but with the NHL and NHLPA both shoving their heads so far up their asses that they sprouted new necks, that wasn't on the agenda.
I can't remember the last time I was at the Cow Palace, but it's safe to say that I hadn't hit double digits the last time I was there. I have vague memories of looking at the building as we drove away. I'm pretty sure it still looks exactly the same. To be honest, the place is a dump. The new screen above the ice looks really nice, but it's surrounded by drab, faded and dusty anachronisms. The drapes covering the walls of the main room are probably older than I am and they look it. The general set up is like being in an over sized barn, with browns, tans and the odd gray and faded reds coloring the walls and seats of the arena. Built to house livestock, this makes sense, but it makes for a very odd sporting experience. I was reminder of the Coliseum as it was in the late 80s; it had that same look and feel to the design. For a building with such a rich history, the least they could do is freshen up the interior with a bit of paint.
One long hallway connects all the seating areas. It was stuffed full of fans. Hockey fans of all types, ECHL, AHL, NHL, all piled in to see the only pro hockey going on in the Bay Area right now. It was a wild and rowdy atmosphere, completely unlike anything I have experienced with the Sharks, or the ECHL's Stockton Thunder (who have a beautiful rink and building btw. Really nice digs) Traditions of not standing or walking around when the puck was in play were thrown right out the window. Leaning was rampant, not that it mattered. The seats are set up so visibility wasn't and issue even with people running around like drunken morons seeing a long lost love. People were excited about hockey.
There was a grand entrance for the team, introducing all the players to the fans for the first time ever. All players skated out through columns of flame (which I was close enough to feel the heat from), once again causing me to wonder why we like to combine fire with meltable things like ice. The starting line up got more cheers than the rest, as usual, and the player from Menlo Park, Hans Benson, got the loudest round of cheering. A local boy skating for the local team, can't beat that! Showers of sparks rained down from the jumbotron as the Condors were doing warmups. Players found themselves dodging tiny balls of fire as they tried to skate. Their goalie just ignored it and stretched under the spark shower. That was not well planned, but hey, It looked kinda neat.
The mayor of Daly City or South City came out and did a puck drop (in which he never dropped the puck. Guess no one told him how that actually worked) and then Doug Wilson and another high ranking member of the Sharks front office trotted onto the ice to do another. The air was full of cheers and boos. A lot of "END THE LOCK OUT!" and "WE WANT HOCKEY!" rained down as they preformed their ceremonial duties. They walked past me to get to the press box, and were kind enough to greet the same fans who had booed them moments prior. Randy Hand and Dan Rusanowsky also wandered past, and were greeted warmly, followed by a quiet entrance by Brodie Brazil. Bay Area sports personality royalty, right here at the Cow Palace. This either says something about the area's commitment to hockey, the Sharks commitment to the Bulls, of the fact that there was nothing else on TV that night.
So just what did this new team in a rinky dink arena have waiting for us once the (real) puck dropped?
Let's recap this game, shall we?
The first period was one big fat 20 minute mess. The Bulls looked, unsurprisingly, like a group that had been thrown together just a few weeks before taking the ice. The Condors, on the other hand, actually looked like a team that had seen ice before and played accordingly. I won't say that they were miles above the Bulls, but they certainly appeared to be the only pro team on the ice. I sat in my chair and tried not to giggle. I debated leaving after the first. It was BAD and the drive home would be a long one. Hockey's hard to come by lately, so I decided to stick it out. The first period was just really, really, really hard to watch. Mercifully, it eventually ended with the Condors up 2-1.
The second period was much improved for the Bulls, who seemed to be communicating with each other and skating a with a bit more confidence. Sloppiness was still an issue though, as the Condors scored 2 more to take the 4-1 lead going into the 3rd. This period was way more enjoyable to watch. Perhaps it was just that I had set my expectations too high; I am used to NHL hockey and not ECHL. The speed and skill level are drastically different. I am also used to the Sharks coming out and skating like a team (for the most part) from night one which was a bit too much to ask for the newly formed Bulls. Still, improvement is improvement and I was no longer wondering if I should have headed for the doors at the end of the first.
The Third was great! The Bulls looked like a team, skated like a team and played like a team that wanted to win their first ever game in front of a home crowd. They brought the game to 4-3 and it looked like they were going to take their very first ever game to OT. Can you even imagine? What a wild night! Sadly, it was not to be as Condors goalie Brian Stewart said NO to every attempt at a Bulls goal. The Bulls lost their first ever game to the Condors, 4-3.
Heemskerk let is some softies but did make 31 saves. Not sure if he performed to DW's expectations, but he will probably be well served by getting a lot of starts with the Bulls.
There's a guy named Buttery on the team. BUTTERY. I cannot begin to explain how amazingly great this is. Just think of the possibilities for pun and double entendre.
Dean Ouellet quickly won the crowd over by scoring the first goal in Bulls history.