Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ontario Reign 4 at San Francisco Bulls 1 (ECHL) - December 13, 2013

With a week off between NFL games, I decided to relax in Oakland as it is a bit cheaper and more convenient to the Coliseum where the Raiders and Warriors play. When I first planned this part of the trip, I expected to see the Rockets take on the Warriors on Friday night, but I changed that and saw the Mavericks on Wednesday instead. There was an ECHL game at the Cow Palace just south of San Francisco on Friday night, but I didn't want to deal with the rush hour traffic, toll bridges, and parking charges, so I wasn't considering attending, until I found out they offer free shuttle buses from a nearby BART station. I much prefer public transit to games, because it saves the hassle and expense that comes with driving and parking. Rather than crawl across the Bay Bridge, I drove to the nearby Coliseum Station and rode BART to Balboa Park, where a free shuttle took me and some other hockey fans the final two miles to the Cow Palace.

Cow Palace

Originally built as a venue for livestock shows (and named the California Livestock Pavilion), the Cow Palace first opened in 1941 and has enjoyed a long history of hosting sports teams. The San Jose Sharks played here for their first two seasons and I remember stopping by during the summer of 1992 to have a look. I drove into the parking lot to take some pictures and was quickly told to leave by a security guard. After the Sharks move to the San Jose Arena (now SAP Center), the Cow Palace hosted the San Francisco Spiders of the IHL for a single season in 1995-96 (that is their jersey second from the right below) but that was their last regular hockey tenant until 2012.

When the San Francisco Bulls began play during the NHL lockout, the Palace was again a hockey destination. Unfortunately, given the attendance at the game last night, it doesn't look like the team will last much longer.

The cheapest ticket is $19 at the box office, which gets you a seat behind the net (below). Obviously the venue was not designed for hockey, and you are quite far away from the ice surface if you sit in any of the yellow seats. With so few fans, you can certainly sit anywhere in that area. but sitting near the top  around center ice is the best option in my opinion.

There are seats that are closer to the ice, but they don't look that comfortable and are not worth the extra cash, although you do get a lot of legroom.

Can you tell that the neutral zone is 10 feet shorter below?

There are your typical few food options, with the hot dog/chips/soda combo at $7.25 the "bargain". There is a restaurants on the concourse, one with hand-carved sandwiches for $9.75 which didn't seem that popular. Then again, nothing here did.

There are a couple of displays with pictures from concerts that have been held here, which are interesting in their own right as they have some photos from the early 80s. For those with an interest in farmers,  the California Livestock Man of the Year is honoured in another display. Other than that, the Cow Palace is most notable for being one of the oldest venues still in operation. I really enjoy old barns like this but wish the Bulls could attract more fans to give it some atmosphere. Sadly, the Cow Palace is simply not a good place to watch hockey, and with tickets, parking, and food costing $40 or more, most people are going to find better things to do in San Francisco.

The Game

The Ontario Reign are based in the city of Ontario, California, and not my home province as one fan mistakenly assumed. They have played there since 2008 and attract a great following, averaging over 7,700 fans this year to lead the league. They also lead the Western Conference with 34 points from 22 games. They are an affiliate of the LA Kings, hence their name is based on royalty. The Bulls came in with 19 points out of 23 contests, and sporting Dale Mitchell (#17 below), who was Toronto's first pick (3rd-round, 74th overall) in the 2007 draft. Mitchell never made the NHL, topping out with 60 games with the Marlies. Before we condemn the Leafs, they did get Matt Frattin and Carl Gunnarson that year, so it wasn't a complete bust.

The Bulls were wearing their Friday night alternate black uniforms with orange trim, while Ontario had orange jerseys with black trim. Considering that it was Friday the 13th, these Halloween-style uniforms were somewhat appropriate, and the teams obliged by putting on a horror show. Mitchell opened the scoring 5 minutes in, taking a lucky bounce off the boards and beating Troy Redman (below in other action).

The second period saw Ontario take 3 penalties in the first 7 minutes but the San Francisco power play was woeful, and eventually the Reign capitalized when Mike Towns scored a shorthanded goal, knocking in a rebound as he followed up a breakaway. The game picked up then, and became quite physical. I expected a fight to break out, but got two for the price of one as Luke Judson and Art Bidlevskii dueled in a battle of 14s while Cody Sol and Scott Langdon made friends. The linesmen broke up the former fight and let the latter combatants tire themselves out and that was that.

A few minutes later, Dylan King took a boarding penalty for the Bulls, and Brian Beebe scored on the power play to give the Reign the lead. Ontario continued to put the pressure on, and the Bulls took two more penalties. On the 5-on-3, Mario Lamoureux deflected a shot that somehow eluded Tyler Beskorowany (below) to make it 3-1.

In the third period, I met up with Will MacNeil, a Bay Area superfan and we spent the time talking about sports in the area and my NFL trip. I really didn't pay much attention to the game, which was essentially decided by then. Sol scored a final marker for Ontario who won 4-1, outshooting the Bulls 48-31 in the process.

Not a great game, but I'm happy to add the Cow Palace to my list of venues, which is now at 457, including 90 hockey rinks.


The Bulls gave away glow-in-the-dark masks to the first 500 fans (which means nearly everyone got one). According to the disclaimer, these are not to be associated with the Friday the 13th films.

Next Up

NFL Road Trip game #29 is Sunday in Oakland. Should be a blast as the Raiders faithful are considered the craziest in the league. Check back Monday to see what happened.



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