DALY CITY — Thomas Heemskerk didn’t know if he’d be starting in between the pipes for Game 2 of the San Francisco Bulls’ first-round playoff series with the Alaska Aces when he awoke on Saturday morning. He had surrendered four goals on 28 shots in Game 1 and coach Pat Curcio yanked him after 35 minutes.
But Heemskerk returned to the net after Curcio challenged him in a face-to-face meeting and he recorded the first shutout in franchise history to even the series at 1-1.
“I just said, ‘Heemer, if your goal is to play in the NHL, you need to conquer this league first and the way to conquer this league is to win in the playoffs,” Curcio said.
If the Bulls are going to knock off the top-seeded Aces, Heemskerk will need to stand on his head again this week when the series returns to the Cow Palace for three games beginning with Game 3 tonight.
“In the playoffs, the team that has the best goaltending is the team that goes the furthest,” captain Scott Langdon said. “If he keeps playing like that, we have a shot.”
The 32-save shutout is just the latest chapter in a roller-coaster season for the Chilliwack, British Columbia, native.
Heemskerk was the Bulls’ horse early in the season, leading ECHL goaltenders in saves, minutes and games played until he was rushed to the hospital on New Year’s Eve for an emergency appendectomy surgery that sidelined him until Feb. 6.
When Heemskerk returned to the ice, he platooned with Taylor Nelson, who played well in his absence.
“After being out for six weeks, it takes a while to get back into rhythm,” Heemskerk said.
Heemskerk started to gain confidence in early March and he appeared to reestablish himself as the team’s No. 1 goaltender after stopping 43 of 45 shots in a 2-1 loss to the Aces on March 6. But two days later, he was called up to the Worcester Sharks (American Hockey League) to replace Alex Stalock, who was in San Jose filling in for injured backup Thomas Greiss.
After three weeks in the AHL, Heemskerk rejoined the Bulls for the final game of the regular season and Curcio gave him the nod for Game 1 and Game 2.
The netminder said he’s excited to be back for the first playoff game at the Cow Palace since the San Francisco Spiders took on the Chicago Wolves on April 20, 1996.
“It’s always rewarding to get called up,” Heemskerk said. “But when it came time for playoffs, this is where I wanted to be.”