By Mary Walsh
San Francisco’s penalty kill was impressive in their first meeting with the Alaska Aces, but it is safe to say that goaltender Tyler Beskorowany stole the game for the Bulls. The final score was 2-1 Bulls, but the official shot clock favored Alaska 45-19. Beskorowany outdid himself. It was almost unsettling to watch him turn away shot after shot, including all but one of the breakaways that the Bulls allowed. “How good is this goalie?” one observer asked Bulls’ broadcaster Jason Lockhart during intermission. Beskorowany answered that question during long stretches of sustained Alaska offense. The Bulls’ goals were scored very early (Jordan Morrison from Scott Langdon 2:22 into the first) and late (Brett Parnham from Dale Mitchell and Mark Lee 13:44 into the third) in the game. In the meantime, the Bulls’ new goaltender was that good. Really, that good.
The Bulls faced Beskorowany four times last season, and he was memorable for more than his name. The Bulls scored four times against him in their first meeting, but didn’t come close to that again for the rest of the season. In their final meeting, the goalie shut the Bulls out. No wonder Bulls President Pat Curcio was happy to sign the big goaltender for this season.
No goaltender is infallible, he will have off nights, he will be unlucky at times. Even with a goaltender who makes a spectacular start, it is critical for the rest of the team to do their part. Early in the season, after relatively little time to practice together, it is to be expected that the Bulls will have some communication glitches to sort out. Those glitches were most evident in their defensive schemes. The team allowed multiple breakaways and failed to hold the zone at inopportune times, sometimes doing both at once. Their Friday performance suggested that the team wasn’t reading each other very well, yet the Bulls killed all five penalties assigned to them. In that, fans can find hope. The team does know how to defend, they just need to smooth the edges between offense and defense.
Starting the season with an 18 day road trip is taxing in many ways, and some will downplay the team bonding value of such a trip. For an ECHL team, it really is a significant inconvenience. They don’t leave ice at home for players to practice on (see Grand National Rodeo schedule), and they can’t travel with the whole roster. Still, no one denies that a road trip has value for team chemistry. Playing in multiple arenas, being thrown together in transit and training, at work and at rest, all of this will give the Bulls plenty of time to communicate.
Starting the season against arguably the best opponent in the west is a blistering trial by fire for the team. On the plus side, several Bulls ended last season against the Aces, so the formidable opponent is familiar. Either way, winning on such steeply tilted ice as the Bulls did in their first game is something to be proud of. A win is a win. Bulls fans can look forward to seeing less harrowing wins if the team sorts out their defensive cues.