In some parts of the world, the notion of wolfing down a stack of pancakes before lacing up a pair of skates and hitting the ice sounds like business as usual for a Monday morning. Not here. But, for fans of the nascent San Francisco Bulls, that was on their plates today.
For aficionados of hockey -- or eating -- it's a pretty sweet deal. Everything is free; you can still get pancakes until 2 p.m. or skate on the Cow Palace's ice until 7. The coach and part-owner of the team will greet you, players will help you lace up, and your flapjacks will be flipped by the team's vice president of corporate partnerships.
After your third pancake or fourth revolution around the ice, it may yet become clear that the seemingly surreal notion of starting up a minor league hockey franchise and housing it in the Cow Palace is not only real, but the team's first game is just weeks away (auditions for skating cheerleaders are this weekend!).
If the Bulls make the Cow Palace the place to be, perhaps that'll be the most improbable outcome of all. Not long ago, the state senator representing the area attempted to liquidate the venerable structure. From the outside, with its distinctive concrete ridges and battleship-gray paint job, it resembles nothing so much as the world's largest muffler.
Things have changed a lot on the inside, however. Coach and team president Pat Curcio eagerly leads your humble narrator around the revamped interior, pointing out the all-new ice system (replacing the stadium's defunct and now-illegal Ammonia-based ice machine required engineers to come up with a novel solution on the fly and incur $50,000 in asbestos-removal bills); the flat-screen TVs synched to the scoreboard; the new dressing rooms; the soundsystem; and, of course, that multi-million-dollar Slovakian-made scoreboard (Curcio was hooked up with the Colosseo corporation
through Dale Hunter
, who put him in touch with Slovakian star Peter Bondra
, who has ties to the company).
Of course, there's still quite a bit in the Cow Palace that harks to the Eisenhower administration. The concrete steps are battle-scarred, and dip, ever so slightly, on the sides due to the impact of countless feet. The chairs are French vanilla and cream-colored with polished wood armrests; they look like they were obtained from an old lecture hall at San Francisco State.
The juxtaposition of the stadium's vintage elements with the high-tech new additions is jarring, but not unpleasant. It feels a bit like a Plymouth Valiant
-- that transforms into a robot.
As the fans finish their pancakes and head toward the ice, Curcio makes sure to mingle with his soon-to-be customers. The team's first preseason game is on Oct. 3, and the puck drops for real on Oct. 12. The lives of a fledgling professional team-owner and his staff are nothing if not hectic, and they have many pancakes to go before they sleep. Follow us on Twitter at @SFWeekly and @TheSnitchSF