In late June, San Francisco Bulls president and coach Pat Curcio said he wanted his fledgling hockey team to be a minor league affiliate of the San Jose Sharks even if it took a whole season -- or two.
It didn't even take a whole month.
The teams today announced a deal, meaning the Cow Palace-based team will be a rung on the Sharks' developmental ladder, much as Fresno, Richmond, San Jose, and others are for the San Francisco Giants.
"I can't tell you how huge this is," said Curcio. He can, however, explain what it means logistically -- and what it will mean for nascent Bulls fans who show up to watch the team's first game in October.
Curcio's 20-man roster will feature up to eight Sharks players -- six skaters and two goalies. Not only does this mean San Francisco fans should get to know San Jose's future big-league stars, it also saves Curcio a ton of money.
The salary cap for ECHL teams is $12,400 a week. Now, however, up to eight players will be getting their checks from the Sharks. And even if those players are earning six-digit salaries, they only count for $525 against Curcio's salary cap. The Sharks, Curcio notes, have seven or eight goaltenders under contract, and needed to put them somewhere. That position, at least, will be filled by Sharks prospects. Other players may come, too. "Whatever happens, we're fine with it," said the coach.
The ECHL -- which used to stand for East Coast Hockey League and now simply stands for "ECHL" -- is two rungs below the National Hockey League. It is the equivalent of Double-A ball's position with regards to Major League Baseball. The Bulls' new American Hockey League affiliate -- one rung above the ECHL and one below the NHL -- will be the Worcester Sharks.
San Jose's ECHL affiliate had been the Stockton Thunder; they are now affiliated with Edmonton.
In a town where fans have their choice of where to spend entertainment dollars, it figures that an official tie to the local NHL team will give the Bulls some legitimacy.
"It gives us instant credibility in the Bay Area," Curcio gushes. On Oct. 12, we'll see if it provides an instant fan base, too.
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