(Andrew Clark eyes the puck, photo: Jack Lima Photography)
The Stockton Thunder hosted the Utah Grizzlies for a two game series on pink ice. Thunder Goes Pink VIII is an annual event to raise awareness and support those affected by cancer with proceeds of the 2-day event going to St. Josephs’ Foundation-Breast Health Services. The ice is dyed pink and the team dons special pink jerseys that were auctioned off during a live event following Saturday night’s game. Some players wore pink laces and others had pink sock tape and sticks. For Stockton Thunder defenseman Mike Dalhuisen, the weekend event is more personal as he honored the memory of his mother who passed away from various cancers including breast cancer when he was 18. His story of moving past his mom’s passing was captured recently by Stockton Record reporter Scott Linesburgh and can be read here.
With such a big event, the pressure was on the Thunder to take the series against the visiting Utah Grizzlies and they did not disappoint. Friday night’s game opened with Thunder Captain Garet Hunt squaring off with Grizzlies forward Danick Paquette to get the crowd into the game. Utah’s Berkley Scott took a penalty to put the Thunder on the power play. Stockton’s power play unit has been hot this year and defenseman Mike Dalhuisen rocketed a shot in from the right point off a feed from Corey Trivino to put the Thunder up 1-0. After the game, Dalhuisen talked about the power play goal. “It was a great pass coming in from Trivino from the corner. My job is just to rip pucks and usually I just try to shoot for rebounds so the boys can pick up the rebounds but today we had a nice screen in front and it just found it’s way through.” Just nine seconds later, Utah answered as David Vallorani snuck one in past netminder Parker Milner, who was making only his second start of the year. The puck found the back of the Thunder net once more as Grizzly forward Berkley Scott was able to tap it in to put Utah up 2-1.
The Thunder started the second period on a power play but could not create much of a push, only registering one shot on goal. The two teams saw action on both ends of the ice but Utah maintained the momentum through the frame. Stockton nearly got the puck to the back of the Grizzly net as Kirill Kabanov fired one in, but rang the crossbar instead.
The third period began with a power play for the Thunder and Andrew Clark tipped in a pass from Ryan Hayes just 27 seconds in to tie the game. Clark said it was important that they got the goal as quickly as they did to start the final period. “We were down 2-1 going into the 3rd and we had a power play to start so you want to try and get a goal and get a little bit of momentum. It was nice to get a goal there and get the boys going.”
The Thunder came back to life, determined to get the go ahead goal. Another penalty for Utah, a bench minor too many men, sent Stockton back on the power play and they went to work. This time Clark would feed Hayes a beauty of a pass to an open net. Clark said of the third power play goal of the night, “It was a good shot and we had good traffic in front. The puck kinda just bounced to me and I saw him out of the corner of my eye and the goalie was playing me for a shot. He overplayed a little bit I think and Hayes had a wide open net and put it in.”
Stockton then went into shutdown mode, stopping the zone entry of Utah and denying them a tying goal. Dalhuisen stepped up to slow the Grizzlies offense. After the game he talked about his defensive play in the third and the team’s regroup after a difficult second period. “They were stretching guys all night and they were just trying to get it down low in the second period. We were struggling on gaps and we regrouped in between the 2nd and the 3rd period. We needed to outwork them. I was gapping up on the blueline and when we do that it makes it a lot easier for everybody.”
Ryan Hayes summed up the team’s effort: “We had a rough start. We got scored on pretty quick and we came out and responded and got the goals we needed at the right time. We all battled and everyone saw it in the third how hard we had to work. We came out with a win, which was nice.”
The teams met for a second set on Saturday night and the Thunder took over the scoring and dominated the game. Six different players registered goals for the evening. Defenseman Shawn Boutin opened the scoring in the first period, getting the puck past Utah netminder Aaron Dell. Kirill Kabanov, having been denied a goal in Friday nights’ contest, lured Dell out of the net, putting the Thunder up 2-0. The Grizzlies answered back with a goal from defenseman Tyler Hinds, putting them only down a goal. Unfortunately for Utah this would be the last time they scored as Stockton went to work to score 4 unanswered goals over the next two periods.
Nathan Deck registered his first goal of the season on a pass from Ben Rosen and Ryan Hayes would follow up 3 minutes later to put the Thunder up 4-1, chasing Dell out of the Utah net to be replaced by Ben Meisner in the second period.
James Henry, a teammate of Garet Hunt’s back in juniors with the Vancouver Giants, snagged his first professional goal to open the third period. Henry commented “It was pretty fluky play, but just throwing the puck at the net and you never know, good things can happen.”
Hunt would close out the period with a goal of his own putting the Thunder up 6-1 over the Utah Grizzlies. Goaltender Brian Foster continued to impress with his 27 out of 28 saves and the defense continues to shutdown the other team at the blueline.“It was a well rounded game for us,” said Head Coach Rich Kromm. “I thought we competed in every area.”