Sharks have new affiliate in San Francisco

The Sports Xchange

Trying to sell minor league hockey in San Francisco is no easy task. Teams have come and gone through the years, and even the NHL's stay in The City was short-lived, but that was the plan all along. The Sharks spent the first two years of their existence from 1991-93 in the friendly confines of the Cow Palace while they waited for their current home to be built in San Jose.

San Francisco is taking another swing at making a go of hockey as an ECHL expansion franchise -- the San Francisco Bulls -- opens the doors to that same old barn known as the Cow Palace in the fall.

And the one advantage the Bulls will have that no other S.F.-based hockey team has enjoyed is the fact they will be affiliated to an NHL team within the same region. For what it's worth, a few familiar names might put more fannies in the seats.

"It's been our dream since we started this project," Pat Curcio told the San Jose Mercury News.

Curcio serves as the chief operating officer, investor, general manager and coach of the Bulls, who will open their inaugural season Oct. 12.

"It's a win-win for the NHL and for us," Curcio told the paper.

An NHL affiliation benefits the Bulls because it means an upgrade in talent -- the Sharks can provide as many as six players, including two goalies. The Sharks, who were limited to half that number when they shared an ECHL affiliate in Stockton (80 miles to the east of San Jose) with the Edmonton Oilers, can get more players the necessary pro experience.

Historically, the ECHL has benefited NHL teams most by giving them another outlet for goaltending prospects. Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals all played in the ECHL.

Last year, Sharks goalies Alex Stalock and Thomas Heemskerk played a combined 31 games in Stockton because the position was split with the Oilers' prospects. This year, San Jose goalies could divide the entire 72-game season.

"If you look at San Jose right now, they're real deep in goaltending," Curcio said. "We're optimistic we can have two of their goaltenders here full time."

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