The Colorado Eagles and the Stockton Thunder came together for a three in three weekend series at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado. It was the last meeting of the regular season for the two teams. Both have struggled through the month of February which saw the Thunder play at home two times and the rest spent on the road. The Eagles have also spent the majority of the month on the road. Each team has suffered through losing streaks, Stockton with 4 road game losses and Colorado with 5 losses, a mix of home and away. The last time the teams met was at the beginning of February at Stockton Arena. The Eagles took that contest in commanding fashion besting the Thunder 7-5 in a fast paced, high goal game.
Colorado plays a fast game, they are a team that thrives in the neutral zone and their offensive capabilities can be deadly if they gain speed and force odd man rushes on the opposing team. Stockton plays a more grind it out style, getting the puck in deep and then cycling while creating havoc in front of the net. Both have power plays that rank at the top of the ECHL, with Stockton still commanding the lead at a 20.1 % conversion rate, making it dangerous for a team to take a penalty. The weekend series showcased each team’s strengths, each game high scoring and each needing a full sixty minutes to decide, and for the middle game, overtime.
The Friday night contest gave the Eagles the first victory, with a 6-4 win over the Thunder. Colorado came out strong, dictating the pace of the game and making Thunder goaltender Brian Foster work hard the first period. Stockton got on the board first, however as Colorado turned the puck over at the blueline and Adam Brace, making his second appearance with the Thunder since coming over from the Cincinnati Cyclones, turned on the jets, and came in alone against Eagles netminder Butler, 1-0. It marked Brace’s first goal with Stockton.
The Eagles top line of Trent Daavettila, Kyle Kraemer and Kyle Ostrow showcased their growing chemistry when Kraemer stripped the puck from Thunder Mitch Bruijsten at the blueline, taking off down the ice for a 2 on 1, passed to Daavettila who popped it behind Foster and tying the game 1-1. “We are a fast team so we feed off that, ” said Kraemer. “If we get a turnover we are off to the races.” The Eagles then pulled ahead 2-1, just 30 seconds later as they won an offensive zone face-off, which Jonathan Parker put in net.
The second period continued with a Eagles offensive onslaught as Trent Daavettila notched his second of the night just 36 seconds into the second period as another Thunder turnover at the blueline created a scoring opportunity for the Eagles. Kraemer would again skate the puck ahead, feed it to Kyle Ostrow and over to Trent Daavettila who put it behind Foster increasing Colorado’s lead 3-1
“It was nice to get back to those ways, being a scoring team,” said Daavettila. “I feel like the chemistry is coming. We are starting to know what Kraemer’s tendencies are, what his capabilities are. He’s a very skilled player so he is a fun guy to play with.”
Kyle Kraemer came over from the Ontario Reign in a trade at the beginning of February. He is at a point per game pace with 10 games played in Colorado and he seems like a natural fit with the speed that both Daavettila has and the scoring touch in Kyle Ostrow.
“Playing with those two, they are so talented,” Kraemer said. “I just have to get open, because they will find me. It’s fun, we have the speed, can make plays and I am really looking forward to playing with them in the future.”
Joey Martin brought the Thunder back within one goal as Mitch Bruijsten and Riley Wetmore split the Eagles defense and put the puck on Martin’s stick who then tipped it in past Butler. Martin has been a solid performer for the Thunder, leading the team in goals and points since the departure of Greg Miller.
Stockton then tied the game up 3-3 as Mike Bergland capitalized on a broken play and came in alone on Butler in the 3rd period. The Eagles would go ahead again, this time on the power play with Greg Gardner going to the net for the goal. The Thunder would get a power play, but they gave up yet another odd man rush and Colorado Captain Riley Nelson tallied a shortie giving Colorado a commanding lead 5-3. Thunder Shawn Boutin showed that the Thunder wouldn’t go down without a fight. After crashing into the boards during the first period and missing most of the second, Boutin came back in the third and scored, giving Stockton a chance to even things up before time ran out. Eagles Kyle Ostrow finished the game, however putting in an empty netter with the final score 6-4.
The second game in a three game series usually brings out the emotions for both teams, and this matchup was no exception. Both teams began the period conservatively with not very many shots put on goal for either side. The Eagles top line of Daavettila-Ostrow-Kraemer began to put on the heat generating some chances in front of Thunder netminder Milner which he was able to turn aside. The fireworks began, however as a succession of fights led to penalty minutes racked up for each side. Joey Martin, who continues to impress, scored the lone goal in the period for the Thunder with just 58 seconds left, giving him his 15th goal of the season, and giving the Thunder the lead 1-0.
“I thought our first period was a pretty well played period, said Eagles Coach Stewart. “The guys moved the puck well on both sides of the ice. They really got a good jump on us and had some good shots on net. It took us by the end of the first period to get our legs, but by then we were really going.”
After a heavy hitting fight between Thunder Captain Garet Hunt and Eagles Isaac Smeltzer at the beginning of the second period, Colorado got to scoring with Jonathan Parker taking a feed from A.J. Hau and putting it past Parker Milner to tie things 1-1. Stockton’s Mathieu Gagnon would answer right back, with his first goal as part of the Thunder organization and Corey Trivino would follow up right after giving Stockton the lead 3-1 . Eagles Kyle Kraemer showed his scoring finesse, however after he received a pass from Kyle Ostrow and fired the puck from the top of the right circle, beating Milner putting them within one 3-2. Kraemer would notch his second of the night before the second period was over on the power play after an initial shot by Trent Daavettila was blocked to tie the game at 3.
The game stayed knotted during the third, with opportunities coming from both sides but neither could foil the goaltenders. The game would head to overtime and Thunder defenceman Ryan Constant would beat Eagles goaltender Adam Brown after a nice cycle started from behind the net by James Henry and Garet Hunt found Constant’s tape with just over a minute left. It was a hard fought game, on both sides but Stockton took it 4-3.
Wild is the only way to describe the first frame of the Sunday matinee contest between the Eagles and the Thunder. Scoring, penalties and thrown waterbottles and sticks the highlights of the period. Stockton opened up the scoring with Joey Martin continuing his scoring streak, putting the puck through Eagles’ netminder Cheverie’s legs for the goal 1-0. Mathieu Gagnon and Issac Smeltzer then would make some fireworks deep in the Eagles zone sending them both off with 5 minute fighting majors. Kevin Ulanski would even things up for the Eagles after Thunder netminder Foster lost hold of the puck and it trickled behind him. More collisions, this time in the Stockton end sent Eagles Captain Riley Nelson off to the box on a questionable call. Thunder Adam Brace scored his second goal of the weekend during the resultant power play. After some delay in the faceoff circle, Colorado Coach Stewart vented his frustration at the referees, throwing every waterbottle behind the bench on to the ice. When he ran out of bottles, sticks began to fly and after it all the Eagles coach was ejected, leaving Assistant Coach Aaron Schneekloth to man the bench. The Thunder gained another power play opportunity and quickly made it work, James Henry putting in a mild shot on Marc Cheverie that snuck through, giving Stockton the edge 3-1.
The scoring wasn’t done yet as Eagles Trent Daavettila got on the board with a rebound that Stockton goalie Brian Foster couldn’t quite get, the first period result a score of 3-2.
The second period marked another series of strange events. Thunder Ryan Constant attempted to block a shot fired from Eagles Daniel Johnston but the puck made it to the back of the net, tying the game 3-3. Colorado would get a delayed penalty and Stockton sent Foster to the bench for the extra attacker. Corey Trivino, the extra skater, picked up the puck on a pass from Henry and Hunt and put it on net giving Stockton the lead 4-3 and a full power play to potentially add another tally.
Thunder Adam Brace continued his weekend scoring streak adding another goal to make it 5-3 in the third which would prove to be needed as Eagles Kyle Ostrow would get a power play goal to put Colorado within one goal 5-4 late in the game.
“I was really just standing in front of the net and Daavettila and Ulanski were making some nice plays,” said Ostrow. “Ulanski shot it and it hit me in the chest, the puck came down to my feet and the goalie had no idea where it was so I shoveled it in.”
Ostrow’s goal gave the Eagles some momentum but it was too late to make a push for another goal, although in the final minute of play with the extra attacker on, it nearly looked like things would get tied up to push the contest into overtime. Ostrow said, “It’s always tough the 3-in-3 and we wanted this game back. I think the fights up at the beginning and Coach Stewart firing us up there helped. We got behind early but we made our way back. I think if we had a few more minutes we could have maybe done it but it was a little too late.”