(photo: Jack Lima Photography)
Two tough as nails teams, the Stockton Thunder and the Utah Grizzlies completed their three game series Friday and Saturday nights at Stockton Arena, the first game played last Sunday with the Grizzlies picking up a hard fought shootout win. Both teams are physical and capable of creating space by throwing their weight around. Utah easily has the larger bodies on the ice and their defense is stingy, giving up very little that their star goaltender Igor Bobkov doesn’t scoop up. The Thunder play a little looser, preferring to grind the puck out of the corners and create havoc in front of the net. Their top line of Corey Trivino, Adam Brace and Ryan Hayes has been skating with finesse and generated most of the scoring opportunities for Stockton. Hayes’ power play goal with just 52 seconds left in a penalty riddled contest on Friday night gave the Thunder the win over the Grizzlies 3-2.
Igor Bobkov chipped the puck a little too heavy off his stick to force the Grizzlies to kill a delay of game penalty with a minute left in the game. Thunder defenceman Mike Keenan, receiving a feed from Corey Trivino, rocketed the puck through the high slot and Ryan Hayes caught it to tip it past the Utah netminder.
“Mike just had a great shot and it hit my stick, I didn’t even have to move it,” said Hayes. “We have been working on that in practice so he had a great shot and nothing I could really do about it except finish.”
The story of Friday night’s game was the massive number of penalties handed out on both sides. A total of 113 penalty minutes were assessed throughout the game, with the bad blood beginning in the first period on a heavy hit that left Grizzlies forward Brent Gwidt, leaving the ice not to return. A big hit during the second period by Utah forward Danick Paquette on Thunder Nick Tremblay sent him off and he would not come back to the game, instead leaving for hospital to assess his injury. It was Tremblay’s first game with Stockton, after being traded from the Bakersfield Condors and recovering from an earlier injury. The loss of two players fueled the fireworks for both teams and the penalty boxes were full for most of the game leaving a lot of open ice with 4 on 4 hockey.
Saturday’s game left much to be desired offensively for the Stockton Thunder, held to just 17 shots by the Utah Grizzlies, with Utah getting the win 4-1. The tone of the game was more subdued and Thunder Head Coach Rich Kromm remarked that the referees did a much better job of taking control of the game and not letting things get too out of hand. This is not to say that the heavy hitting had left the game as both sides delivered big hits along the boards. After Thunder defenceman Mike Keenan rung the puck off the Utah post, forward Danick Paquette drilled Keenan into the boards, putting Stockton down yet another D heading into the final regular season push. This forced Coach Kromm to shuffle the lines a bit and he put Mathieu Coderre-Gagnon back to cover the blueline in the third period.
“With Mike out we were down to 5 defencemen,” said Kromm. “Mathieu has a history of playing defence so it was an opportunity to let him play and see how he handled it back there. I thought he did great and he moved the puck well. It’s good to know that we have that depth that we can use.”
The Thunder struggled to find their offensive game and it would be Utah that would find the back of the net. David Vallorani scored 2 goals for the Grizzlies, one on the power play, with special teams playing a big factor in the game, particularly for Utah where they went 2 for 4 on the power play. Stockton, a powerhouse on the power play, could not net a goal. The only goal for the Thunder came shorthanded on a last ditch effort by Michal Spacek in the waning minutes of the third period.
“We were down 5 on 4 and Baldwin got the puck deep,” said Spacek of the goal. “Henry then shot it and it was just a lucky bounce to me and so I just shot it.”
Injuries are beginning to become a factor for the Thunder as they are down to just 4 natural defencemen. The loss of Mike Keenan, who has made a big impact on the blueline, will hopefully be shortlived as they are still missing Ryan Constant and Shawn Boutin due to injury. Two forwards Ben Rosen and Gagnon can fill in on the blueline as needed, but at what expense offensively?
The two teams meet yet again on Wednesday, this time in Utah. The heavy hits will most likely continue as the Thunder will be hungry to get a win in the Grizzlies barn after being burned on home ice over the weekend.