The ECHL playoff hunt is heating up and the San Francisco Bulls are returning a pair of key faces just in time.
With only one-third of the season remaining, the Bulls (17-22-1-5) are looking to pick up ground in the Western Conference standings and the team should be bolstered by the return of goalie Tommy Heemskerk and forward Marek Viedensky.
“They were big parts of our team and our success earlier on,” coach Pat Curcio said. “So, we’re excited to get those guys back in our lineup for a little boost.”
The Bulls are currently in eighth place in the Western Conference, two points behind the Utah Grizzlies for the seventh spot.
Heemskerk will suit up as the backup goaltender for Taylor Nelson when the Bulls face the Las Vegas Wrangers on Wrangle-A-Date night at the Cow Palace on Wednesday and Viedensky is expected to skate with the team this weekend when the last-place Bakersfield Condors roll into town.
But the Bulls will likely be without power forward Rylan Galiardi, who is experiencing concussion symptoms, for another week.
No Controversy: Nelson is still the Bulls starting goalie for now, but Curcio expects Heemskerk to step in between the pipes at some point this weekend.
The Bulls are travelling to Southern California to take on the first-place Ontario Reign on Friday before returning home for bouts with the Condors on Saturday and Sunday. Curcio said Nelson is going to need a breather at some point.
“Heemskerk’s getting a lot of rubber [in practice],” he said. “He’s looking sharp.”
Heemskerk led ECHL goaltenders in games, minutes and saves before undergoing emergency appendectomy surgery on New Year’s Eve. But Nelson earned the starter’s gig by playing spectacularly in his absence. The Bulls picked up points in seven of the 12 games he started.
Heemskerk said he has no hard feelings toward Nelson.
“It’s part of the job,” he said, adding, “I understand it’s going to take some time to see where things go and he’s earned all the games he’s been playing, so it’s going to be tough to take the net away.”
Scoring punch: The Bulls should get a scoring bump when Viedensky returns to the ice. The Slovakian center registered 16 points in 16 games with the club before injuring his knee on Dec. 21.
“The kid’s got everything — size, strength, speed,” Curcio said. “The Sharks drafted him for a reason.”
The Bulls coach said he expects Viedensky to skate with the team for about a month before he’s called up to the AHL Worcester Sharks.