DALY CITY -- Coach Pat Curcio devoted a large chunk of the San Francisco Bulls Friday morning practice to rimming pucks off the boards.
He and assistant coach Mario Morrissette fired pucks along the boards and his defensemen were instructed to shoot them toward the net as soon as they reached their sticks. The goal was to get them into the habit of shooting pucks through to the net.
“We haven’t been getting pucks through, our D hasn’t contributed,” Curcio said. “I said, we aren’t going to win games until our D contributes offensively.”
The message was heard.
Kyle Bigos scored the game-winning goal in the Bulls 2-1 home-opening victory over the Bakersfield Condors at the Cow Palace on Friday after blasting home a slap-shot on a puck that banked off the boards and trickled out to the blue line.
“That’s what they do in the National Hockey League, that’s what defensemen do so well. They don’t need to set it up on a tee because guys will get out on the wings -- they need to get it away as quick as they can,” Curcio said. “To watch him do that tonight and then get rewarded for it makes it a lot easier for us to preach now -- we get to say, you see what happens when you do that?”
Bigos’ unassisted goal at 1:12 of the second period put the Bulls (3-5-1) ahead 2-0 and it was enough to snap the team’s four-game losing streak in front a crowd of 5,218 roaring fans.
Another key to the Bulls victory was scoring the game’s first goal. The Bulls scored the opening goal only once in their first eight contests and they went 1-5-1 in the games in which they surrendered the first tally.
“It’s been two years that our guys haven’t scored first, I can count [the number of times we’ve scored first] on one hand,” Curcio said. “It’s something we really want to preach this year: scoring first. The stats don’t lie.”
Dean Ouellet, who was held to two points in the Bulls eight first games, opened the scoring at 8:29 of the first period after backhanding the puck past Condors goalie Andy Chiodo.
Ouellet toe-dragged the puck into the slot and held on patiently while linemate Brett Parnham drove to the net, creating a screen that appeared to blind Chiodo as the puck zipped past him.
“I was thinking a lot about passing it,” said Ouellet, who also scored the first goal in Bulls home-opener last season. “When I was cutting in, he was through and I was maybe thinking about a deflection or something, so I was just lucky it went in.”
Curcio credited Ouellet for his patience on the play.
“I was yelling from the bench to shoot the puck,” Curcio said. “He out-patiented me and went to his backhand and scored, so we’ll let the skilled guys do their thing.”
The goal snapped Ouellet’s streak of 18-straight games without a regular season goal and it was the Bulls first tally in 169:03. Riley Brace, who was sent down from Worcester earlier in the week, picked up an assist on the play, his first point with the Bulls.
Ouellet said he was relieved to finally light the lamp.
“You always want to help the team out and the puck wasn’t bouncing for us on the road really, so just getting the first one out of the way feels really good,” he said.
Curcio said Ouellet confronted the challenge of facing opponents top defenders on a nightly basis during the Bulls eight-game road trip because visiting teams have to send out there lines first.
"Their best checkers are playing against our best players, so I can’t get them away from them,” he said.
The Condors cut the lead to 2-1 at 17:42 of the second period when Wes Cunningham beat goaltender Tyler Beskorowany, but the Bulls held on through a scoreless third period to notch their first home win of the season.
Beskorowany stopped 34 of 35 shots he faced and he’s now second in the ECHL in saves with 235 on the season.
“I love the work load,” Beskorowany said. “I find it keeps me in the game.”
Curcio said Beskorowany is a calming presence in between the pipes and an extra coach on the ice.
“When you have him in net there, you know that even if there’s a mistake ,there’s a good chance he’s going to make the save,” he said.
The only drawback from the game was losing Dale Mitchell in the third period to a back injury. Curcio said Mitchell’s back seized up as crashed into Chiodo on a near breakaway.
“They’re going to take every precaution and just take a look at it,” Curcio said. “I’m optimistic.”