San Francisco Bulls ready to bring hockey back after 15-year hiatus 

click to enlarge Fixer-upper: The Cow Palace will make upgrades in preparation for hosting San Francisco Bulls games beginning in 2012. (AP file photo) - FIXER-UPPER: THE COW PALACE WILL MAKE UPGRADES IN PREPARATION FOR HOSTING SAN FRANCISCO BULLS GAMES BEGINNING IN 2012. (AP FILE PHOTO)
  • Fixer-upper: The Cow Palace will make upgrades in preparation for hosting San Francisco Bulls games beginning in 2012. (AP file photo)
  • Fixer-upper: The Cow Palace will make upgrades in preparation for hosting San Francisco Bulls games beginning in 2012. (AP file photo)

Let there be hockey.

The ECHL held a news conference Tuesday to formally introduce the San Francisco Bulls as the 21st member of the long-standing NHL minor-league affiliate.

"It’s very exciting," Pat Curcio, San Francisco Bulls president, general manager and head coach, said. "There hasn’t been pro hockey in San Francisco in 15 years, so we believe we can provide an affordable entertainment for the families of San Francisco."

Curcio played nine seasons of minor league hockey before retiring in 2001 and has been in coaching and management for the past 10 years.

San Francisco last had pro hockey during the 1995-96 season when the San Francisco Spiders played one season in the International Hockey League before folding due to attendance and difficulties with the arena.

The Bulls will play their first game at the beginning of the 2012-13 season and call the historic Cow Palace home.

Curcio was convinced to call the Cow Palace the team’s new home after Cow Palace CEO Joe Barkett invited him to a show.

"He invited [my wife and I] to see an event at the Cow Palace. We went to see Cirque du Soleil and we were sold," Curcio said. "We said, ‘This could be hockey.’"

Daly City’s Cow Palace has been host to a number of professional sports teams including the Spiders, San Jose Sharks and the San Francisco Warriors.

"This is the first step to restoring the Cow Palace to the glory days that we had before," Daly City mayor Carol Klatt said.

The Cow Palace will be making upgrades, including a video board, concessions and the dressing rooms.

But why San Francisco?

"We have a willing ownership group," ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said. "They believe in the market, an iconic facility in the Cow Palace, we have a base of hockey fans."

McKenna called it a good geographic fit with three other teams in California.

Players will be brought in through a future affiliation with an NHL team, free agents and college players.

The ECHL, formerly the East Coast Hockey League, is a development league affiliated with the NHL and played its first season in 1988-89.

It is currently made up of 20 teams spanning the United States.

The Bulls will be the ninth member of the Western Conference, along with the Alaska Aces, Bakersfield Condors, Colorado Eagles, Idaho Steelheads, Las Vegas Wranglers, Stockton Thunder, Ontario Reign and the Utah Grizzlies.

Training camp will begin in September 2012.

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Zack Farmer

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