(photo credit: Jack Lima Photography)
The Stockton Thunder and the Utah Grizzlies played their first in a series of three meetings at Stockton Arena on Saturday night. The last time the two teams met Thunder netminder Parker Milner netted an impressive shutout performance over the Grizzlies. This time, the game was a physical battle and both goalies, Milner and Bobkov, the February Warrior Hockey ECHL Goaltender of the Month, had their fair share of saves and it would take a shootout to decide the game. The Grizzlies came out ahead with Jamie MacQueen, David Vallorani and Phil Mangan getting pucks past Milner in his first shootout contest this season for the Thunder, the final score 3-2.
The first period proved to be more about physical play than shots taken on net as both teams racked up the penalty minutes. 40 of the 54 penalty minutes handed out in the game occurred in the first period alone. Stockton got the scoring started early at 4:27 of the first period with Ryan Hayes, his second game back with the team since being sidelined with a shoulder injury for most of the season, made a beauty of a goal, fooling Bobkov as he toe-dragged the puck and then backhanded it in.
“I just tried to hold and be patient with it and found an opportunity to shoot it and just put it up high on him,” said Hayes on the goal.
The fireworks then erupted between the two teams as two tough customers Thunder Alex MacLeod and Grizzlies Danick Paquette clashed in Stockton’s offensive zone. Both were sent to the box with seven minutes a piece and the penalty floodgates opened with both teams drawing calls. Thunder Landon Oslanski would get a slashing call putting the Grizzlies on a 4 on 3 powerplay, and Utah would score off the ensuing faceoff, with David Vallorani claiming his 20th goal of the season and tying the game 1-1.
The Thunder began the second period on a penalty kill as Michel Spacek, in the waning moments of the first, got called for high sticking. Utah could not generate any power play offense and so play resumed at 5 aside for most of the second. Stockton Thunder’s line of Corey Trivino, Adam Brace and Ryan Hayes creating multiple rushes up the ice to pressure Bobkov and the Grizzlies defense. It would be another 4 on 3 power play, this time favouring the Thunder to put Stockton ahead 2-1. Defenseman Mike Keenan began the play working the puck along the boards and fed it to Ryan Hayes in the circle, sending to Trivino, who was waiting in the slot to one time it home.
“We had some time to work together in practice so I knew he was going to be up high in the slot,” said Hayes of the power play goal. “They pressured Hunt on the back door so it came to me and I found him (Trivino) right there.”
Thunder Head Coach Kromm praised Mike Keenan’s offensive play. “He has been solid since he came down (from Bridgeport). We know what we are going to get out of him every night, and he’s very good defensively and created some offense for us.”
Stockton would again end the period on the penalty kill with Spacek, this time getting called for cross-checking with 8 seconds left in the frame Coach Kromm supported the defenseman’s transgressions. “I think he did the right thing and stood up for his teammate who got cheapshot and you can’t fault a player for coming to the aid of his teammates. He competed hard tonight.”
The final frame gave Utah the tying goal to force overtime. Grizzlies forwards Joey Cramarossa, recently brought down from AHL affiliate Norfolk Admirals and Brendan Jamison flew down the right side and into the Thunder zone, a couple nice passes and the puck found the trailer, Danick Paquette who drove it past Milner to tie the game 2-2. Another goal by Paquette late in the third would be ruled a no- goal as Parker Milner was upended in the crease by Grizzlies Martin Lee.
Overtime could not solve the stalemate at two a piece and the game was sent to the shootout with Utah taking the win, 3-2. It marked Thunder netminder Parker Milner’s first shootout loss of the season, that despite his solid play in goal for 65 minutes of action. The game was very physical and both Coach Kromm and forward Corey Trivino described the game as having the feel of playoff hockey.
“It was a physical game and it was kind of like playoff hockey,” said Trivino after the game. “There was a lot of blocked shots and I think our team played well. Some bounces didn’t go our way but sometimes that happens . Personally our line played pretty decent. You are always looking forward to those big physical games that pushes you to your limit and these games are the ones that make you better.”
Ryan Hayes is revealing how much the Thunder have missed his creative play and has slid in nicely with Trivino and Brace. When asked how he was holding up his second game back especially after a very heavy hitting game, Hayes remarked, “I feel great. I feel more secure out there when I get hit a lot so it feels good but it would have been a lot better with a win.”
The Utah Grizzlies and Stockton Thunder will finish their three-game series next Friday and Saturday March 14th and 15th at Stockton Arena for the “Covanta Easy Being Green” weekend, before they take on the Las Vegas Wranglers for a Sunday late afternoon matinee.