(photo credit: Jack Lima)
This weekend pitted two top teams in a 3 in 3 series with the Ontario Reign and the Stockton Thunder facing one another in Ontario Friday and Sunday and splitting the middle with a visit to Stockton on Saturday night. The Reign would garner the first two wins but the Thunder came away with their first win of the season against Ontario on Sunday night winning 5-1. It was a physical and emotional series and by Sunday both teams were worn down. Friday’s game ended in a nine round shootout with the Reign getting the win. Both teams then loaded up the buses and traveled the night for Saturday night’s tilt in Stockton, which featured hard checking and physical battles along the boards, each team reluctant to give up much in the way of scoring chances. Thunder Head Coach Rich Kromm thought that his team’s effort was good for both Friday and Saturday night’s contests, but the Reign got the better of Stockton on Saturday, besting them 3-2.
“I thought we had good chances and good pressure,” said Kromm. “I thought our forecheck was good, we just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities and we need to get more pucks to the net. I thought we did a better job last night of getting pucks to the net. Tonight we didn’t shoot the puck often enough when we had opportunities.”
Thunder Defencemen Ryan Constant put Stockton on the board first, but then the Reign dominated the scoring with goals by Mario Lamoureux, Derek Couture and Matt Register to give Ontario the edge. Landon Oslanski, who scored for the Thunder in Friday’s game, pushed for the comeback and got a goal to put the Thunder within one. It wasn’t enough but Oslanski wasn’t put off by the loss. For him, it’s a matter of making the simple plays and continuing to get pucks to the net. “Our efforts are good and we can beat these guys,” Oslanski said. “We are not getting stomped by them, not at all. Its one, two goal games, we are eventually gonna win.”
And win the Thunder did with an offensive rout on Sunday night, beating the Reign 5-1. Garet Hunt opened the scoring for the Thunder in the first period. Joey Martin continued the goal tally for Stockton in the second period, with Matt Bergland putting the Thunder up 3-0 late in the period, despite the Reign taking most of the shots on net.
Lee Baldwin collected his first goal as a Thunder defencemen early in the third to bring the goal count to 4 for the Thunder. The Reign then poured on the shots against Stockton netminder Brian Foster, forcing him to make 23 saves in the third period alone. Matt White would finally score for Ontario, killing Foster’s bid for the shutout. He made a season high 42 saves for the Thunder and earned the first star of the game.
“I felt good tonight,” Foster said. “Obviously the team played really well in front of me, they let me see everything, and my defensemen helped out a lot clearing everything away.”
Ontario pulled goalie Michael Hutchinson for a last bid to get on the board, but it would be the Thunder that would get the last biscuit in as Captain Garet Hunt got the empty net, raising his goal total for a team high of 11 on the season. The Stockton Thunder capped the series with a 5-1 win over the Reign, collecting their first win this season over their Pacific Division rivals.
The weekend series marked the first time this season the Thunder were without rookie forward Andrew Clark, who led the team in points. Earlier in the week, Clark was named the Sher-Wood ECHL Player of the Week and then promptly received a call-up to the Thunder’s AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The loss of Clark along with other injuries to Ryan Hayes, J.P. Burkemper and others, put Stockton a bit shorthanded for the weekend.
Ontario still sits in first place both in overall points in the ECHL and the Western Conference. The Thunder sit in second place in the Pacific Division behind the Reign and 4th place in the Western Conference. After the Holiday Break the Thunder will face the San Francisco Bulls in a five game series, opening with a 3 in 3 series next weekend. The Reign will travel to Alaska to face the Aces for a three game series starting on Friday and ending New Year’s Eve.