(photo credit: Jack Lima Photography)
The Stockton Thunder took on the Ontario Reign for a late afternoon matchup at Stockton Arena. The Thunder have had trouble getting a win over the Reign in their home building, but not tonight as they put up a solid offensive effort against the second place Western Conference team besting them 3-1.
The Thunder welcomed back forward Ryan Hayes to the lineup, who has missed 39 games with a shoulder injury and Coach Kromm was pleased to see him back. “Its been a long time for him and coming back takes a while to get into it,” said Kromm. “He dropped to block a shot which was huge at the end there which made a big difference for us. It shows his commitment to the team and doing what he has to to win games, first and foremost. I thought he made some plays, had a couple quick shots on the side of the net that almost found their way in. He’s pretty creative in those situations where goaltenders aren’t expecting him to release a shot and where most guys won’t but he finds ways to do that and he’s dangerous all the time.”
Kromm said that Hayes worked extremely hard to get himself ready for an early comeback and that they didn’t really expect him back in the lineup until right near the playoffs.
“It felt great to be back. I’ve been waiting for this since I got my surgery and we got a win so it’s a successful night for the team,” Hayes commented after the win. “The first couple periods I was a little sluggish but finally our line started clicking in the third period.”
Hayes’ new linemates are Corey Trivino and Adam Brace, filling in for Joey Martin who got called up to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers earlier in the week. The line had already generated some buzz around the net during the series with the Colorado Eagles and the addition of Hayes’ offensive talent around the net with the speed and skill of both Brace and Trivino bodes well for Stockton as they finish out the season.
The first period of play was dominated by the Reign as they fired 9 shots on net to the Thunders’ 5, but remained scoreless until halfway through the second period. The Thunder were called for a penalty, putting Ontario on the power play. Stockton tallied a beauty of a shorthanded goal off a broken play along the boards. Riley Wetmore and Adam Brace came in 2 on 0 and Reign netminder Olkinuora couldn’t stop the puck from finding the back of the net.
“The two of them executed perfectly. It was unselfish,” Kromm said of the shorthanded goal. “They moved it twice in order to get the goal and there wasn’t much the goaltender could do. It was a huge goal for us and momentum swing.”
Riley Wetmore, who put the puck past Reign defenseman Cameron Burt to get the play started said, “I saw Brace going to the net so I gave it to him early so if he wanted to shoot he could. He had me going to the net as well and he gave it back to me and the goalie was in a split and I got lucky, the puck went between the pad and the glove.”
The Thunder would score again in the third, this time Adam Brace would collect a goal in a passing clinic set up by Michal Spacek and Ryan Hayes, who one-touched it at the hashmarks to Brace and it was 2-0. James Henry would then add to the Thunder lead, taking the pass from Garet Hunt, walking into the slot and putting the puck through the 5-hole on Olkinuora.
A late power play goal from Reign captain Derek Couture, playing in his first game back since January 18th, denied Thunder goaltender Parker Milner a shutout. Stockton Mike Keenan received a delay of game penalty after a scramble in front of the Thunder net sent bodies to the ice and the puck batted away by Keenan, who leaned into the net as he reached for the puck, causing the net to come off its moorings.
Milner has been a solid, steady force in net for the Thunder. Each game he improves and Kromm said, “There is no panic to his game, he’s been covering up all the rebounds, and there isn’t a lot laying around in front of him which makes it easy for our defense for sure.”
Milner stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced to get the 3-1 win for the Thunder, while Reign netminder Jussi Olkinuora made only 14 saves.
The Thunder head to Bakersfield on Tuesday to face the red-hot Condors while the Reign head to Colorado for a three game series with the Eagles next weekend.