DALY CITY – The San Francisco Bulls final game was a mirror of their inaugural season: they stumbled, they fought back, they fell just short.
The Alaska Aces eliminated the Bulls from the Kelly Cup playoffs on Saturday, winning Game 5, 4-3 at the Cow Palace, bringing the team’s first season to an unwelcome finish.
“Real sad right now, real emotional; it’s hard to believe it’s over,” Head coach Pat Curcio said. “I go back to the day almost two-and-a-half, three years ago, when we came up with the name to where we are today and to have it end like this – it’s tough.”
For the second-straight game, the Bulls jumped on the board first when Bryan Cameron ended the team’s power-play drought in the opening period. The Bulls entered the game 2-for-52 with the man advantage against the Aces this season, but then Cameron put the puck over goalie Gerald Coleman’s shoulder after Dean Ouellet found him alone in front of the net at the 15:34 mark of the opening frame.
“They’re the best PK in the league. They put on a lot of pressure, it’s real hard to set up,” Ouellet. “We had good puck movement there, trying to find some options. Cameron was open there and he put it top shelf.”
But the Aces evened it up before the end of the period and the teams headed to the locker room tied 1-1.
The Bulls appeared to take a 2-1 lead early in the second when Dylan King fired the puck into an open net from the middle of the left circle. But instead, referee JM McNulty sent Jordan Morrison to the penalty box for goalie interference, contending that he’d knocked Coleman off his feet while skating through the crease.
But Curcio insisted that Coleman fell while trying to push Morrison.
Less than two minutes later, Bobby Hughes notched his second goal of the game and the Aces pulled ahead 2-1.
“It was a crazy turn of events,” Curcio said.
The Aces added another goal roughly seven minutes later and extended the lead to 4-1 early in the third period. But just like in Game 4, the Bulls battled back from a three-goal deficit, making it a one-goal game with less than two minutes to play.
First, Peter Sivak scored his first goal of the playoffs, floating the puck over Coleman’s shoulder while a screen blocked his vision. Then, Ouellet scored on a one-timer when Cameron fed him a pass from behind the net into the slot, making the score 4-3 with 1:38 to play.
“Against them you don’t have much time, you’ve got to shoot it right away,” Ouellet said. “You’ve got to try to work one-timers and quick shots because they’re going to get in those shooting lanes.”
But the Aces iced it with an empty netter 36 seconds later, ending the first season of San Francisco Bulls hockey.
After the players shook hands, the Bulls raised their sticks at center ice and saluted the fans. They lingered on the ice, taking in the last cheers of the 2012-13 season before stepping into the locker room.
“We had stretches where we didn’t win seven or eight games in a row and they still managed to come out. You’ve got to thank them for that,” Morrison said.
Ouellet said the team enjoyed its time in city by the bay.
“I think San Francisco is a great city, it’s amazing for us,” he said. “It’s amazing being here, it’s a really great experience.”
Morrison said the future his bright for the franchise with the culture that's been established in the locker room.
“I’ve played on a lot of teams throughout my career, junior, professional, university and this is one of the best groups of guys I’ve ever been with on and off the ice. Just a treat to be around,” he said. “There’s no clicks in the room, everyone was friendly with each other. You didn’t mind going to the rink in the morning, just a great environment to come to every day.”
Curcio said the fans response after the game and throughout the season was surreal.
“To know that we created something that has so much passion and there’s such a culture that goes with it – that’s all we can ever ask for,” he said.