Former Bulls make themselves at home with Steelheads

Recent acquisitions play key roles in Idaho's shootout win over Alaska.

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comFebruary 27, 2014 

Idaho’s Gaelan Patterson, left, collides with Alaska’s Zach Davies during the first period Wednesday night.

San Francisco’s second-year ECHL franchise folded in late January amid huge financial losses. But the Bulls — or former Bulls, at least — are still having a big impact on this hockey season.

Rob Linsmayer and Luke Judson, former Bulls who have flourished for the Idaho Steelheads, combined for three goals, one assist and the shootout winner in a 6-5 victory Wednesday night against Alaska at CenturyLink Arena.

Alaska center Jordan Morrison, another former Bull, scored in the fifth — and typically final — round of the shootout to extend it to a sixth round. Linsmayer, who scored two third-period goals, found the back of the net in the sixth round to notch the game-winner.

“There are Bulls everywhere. Everywhere you turn there’s a Bull,” Linsmayer said. “It’s always fun to line up next to them in a face-off because it’s like, ‘What’s up, buddy?’ You wish them the best. Then it’s kind of fun going into the corner with them. We’re dispersed everywhere.”

The Steelheads (28-18-7) are grateful to have several.

Linsmayer had two goals and no assists in 11 games with San Francisco this year. But after being acquired by the Steelheads in a cash trade in early December, he has scored 10 goals and added eight assists.

Judson’s turnaround has been even more remarkable. In 31 games with the Bulls, he had four goals and no assists. In 11 games with Idaho since signing as a free agent after San Francisco folded, Judson has five goals and four assists, including one of each Wednesday night.

“I didn’t have a role. I was pretty much fighting and killing penalties,” Judson said. “Opportunity is everything. I’m pretty happy that (Steelheads coach) Brad (Ralph) has given me a chance to play right off the bat and I’m just trying to earn it every day.”

Linsmayer said players were often pigeonholed in San Francisco, but that Ralph prefers much more fluid roles.

“The coach there kind of pegged you as a certain player from day one and you couldn’t do much to change his mind. Ralphie here, if you’re playing well, he’s going to give the guys who are playing the best the most opportunities,” Linsmayer said.

The former Bulls — Idaho also has defenseman Damon Kipp from San Francisco — were pivotal Wednesday.

Judson scored in the second period to tie the game at 2. And then 80 seconds later, he assists on William Rapuzzi’s goal to give the Steelheads their first lead of the night. In the third period, Judson and his line again created several chances.

Linsmayer cashed in his opportunities. The forward, who spent part of last season in Idaho, scored on a pass from Anthony Nigro to give the Steelheads a 4-3 lead. Less than 90 seconds later, Linsmayer again made his way to the front of the net. This time he deflected a pass from Charlie Dodero, getting just enough of the puck for it to trickle into the net.

“It shows up as two goals on the stat sheet, but those were nice plays by my teammates. I’ll take it,” Linsmayer said.

The back-to-back goals wouldn’t be enough to win it in regulation as Alaska stormed back with two goals in the final 11 minutes to force the shootout.

San Francisco’s demise forced the ECHL to reconfigure its schedule. As a result, some teams in the now eight-team Western Conference will play 71 games while others will play the originally scheduled 72. As a result, the league will seed the playoffs by winning percentage rather than points.

The Steelheads, who improved to 20-1-2 when scoring more than three goals in a game this season, are in a tight battle for the third seed with Colorado and Utah.

The former Bulls should play a big role in determining where the Steelheads end up.

“We’re fortunate to get those guys. They’ve both done extremely well,” Ralph said. “It’s good to see guys get a second chance and take advantage of it.”

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