(photo: Jack Lima Photography)
This weekend’s match up featured the Thunder wearing their ECHL Heritage Classic “Rough & Ready Islanders” sweaters for the final time on the ice. It didn’t take long for things to get rough between the Stockton Thunder and the Alaska Aces on Saturday in their first meeting since the five game series in February, where bad blood boiled over and a flood of penalty minutes sunk the Thunder. This time, just 2 seconds into the opening period Thunder Captain Garet Hunt and Aces Zach McKelvie threw their gloves to the ice and let the fists fly, with Hunt landing a solid uppercut to send McKelvie to the ice and both men to the box to cool their heels. The message Hunt sent was clear and it fired up his team and the crowd.
“I think Hunt set the tone there showing the intensity right off the hop,” said Thunder Head Coach Rich Kromm on his captain’s early fight. “Their guy was willing and I thought it got the crowd involved right away. I thought our first period was really good, the intensity was good, the physical play was there, our gaps were good all over the ice and we didn’t give them a lot of room to operate.”
The spark at the start of the game launched the Thunder into an offensive drive that gave them the early lead over the Western Conference leading Aces. Corey Trivino, who has had a strong last half of the season, lit the lamp as he tipped in the rebound off an initial blast from forward Joey Diamond.
“I think it was the first shot of the game,” said Trivino about the goal. “There was a point shot that went real wide and the goalie kind of overcompensated for it. The puck bounced out and I was able to be there and basically put it into an empty net.”
Alaska would be quick to respond back, as Evan Trupp, recently down from the AHL fired the puck from a sharp angle and beat Thunder goalie Brian Foster as he tried to cover the shot. The puck tagged the opposite side of the net and it was a 1-1 game. Stockton wasn’t done, however, with their offensive onslaught and forward turned defenceman Ben Rosen blasted a shot from the left point and nailed the back of the net after Corey Trivino made the initial pass. Rosen topped his goal by blowing a kiss to Aces goaltender Coleman to make it a 2-1 game.
Stockton forward Joey Martin gave Corey Trivino a perfect drop pass in the slot to give the Thunder a 3-1 lead in the second period on the power play. The goal came at the end of a long passing cycle that had hemmed the Aces in their own zone. Martin had spent some time up with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and it was his first game back. Before heading to the AHL, Martin and Trivino had been linemates, and they had been quite successful generating a solid offensive game.
“Things just seem to be clicking,” said Trivino on his 4 point night. “Martin came back today and before he got called up we had some pretty good chemistry. Its the best of both worlds… you don’t want to see a guy come down but he is down here and we’re making the best of it and everything was firing on all cylinders tonight.”
Martin would then get a goal of his own to put the Aces in a hole 4-1. It would be dangerous to assume that the game would go Stockton’s way, as Alaska’s highly skilled team would make a comeback in the third.
“They came at us in the second and took a little bit of momentum away,” Coach Kromm said of Alaska’s rally. “Still going in 4-1, we should have been able to handle that lead.”
Just when it seemed that Stockton had contained the Aces top line with Sivak and Mazzolini, the Aces captain got the puck behind Foster and it gave Alaska life in the third period.
“When you give a team like that life,” Corey Trivino said of the Aces goal and the momentum shift in the third period, “they are really skilled and they are able to capitalize when they have a chance.
In fact, three unanswered goals came from Mazzolini, Findlay, and another by Trupp to tie the game at 4-4 and send it to OT. If the third period was anything, it was foreshadowing for what was to come during the Sunday matinee game.
Thunder defenceman Lee Baldwin got the game winner in overtime, with Joey Martin notching another assist for a 3 point night. Despite the rough third period, the Thunder looked solid controlling the pace of the Aces play and their power play came together especially with Martin back in the lineup, generating a number of scoring opportunities.
“We had different guys in different spots,” said Coach Kromm. “We had Martin on the weak side playing up top and he’s pretty creative. I think that unit moved the puck really well, and it paid dividends for us. They showed some pretty good patience and created some opportunities.”
After coming off an overtime win on Saturday, Sunday’s game would turn into a nightmare for the Thunder as the Aces picked up where they left off during the third period of Saturday’s game, and it was clear that Alaska had done their homework.
“They got the jump on us early and it almost seemed like everything that was going to the net, certainly not faulting Parker Milner, but it seemed everything found a way into the net,” said Coach Kromm. “They made some great plays; they didn’t have an overload of shots but capitalized on some real quality scoring chances.”
The game was a blowout 7-2 with Alaska scoring four goals in the first period alone. Forwards Brett Findlay, Peter Sivak, and Evan Trupp did early damage with Trupp garnering 4 points with 2 goals and 2 assists in the period. Foster then came into the net for the Thunder but it wouldn’t be long until the Aces would strike again.
Aces Forward Jordan Morrison opened the second period with a goal and Zach McKelvie netted a shorthanded goal to give Alaska 6 unanswered tallies. The Thunder would finally find the back of the net as Sean Escobedo got the puck past Aces goaltender Aaron Crandall, who made his pro debut. It gave Stockton a bit of life but the enormous hole loomed with just 20 minutes to play. It would take a literal miracle on ice to turn the tide for the Thunder, but the Alaska snipers struck one more time, with Tommy Mele getting the seventh goal on the evening. Thunder forward Alan Quine, a recent addition from the Sound Tigers, got his first ECHL goal, but it didn’t do much to heal the gaping wound the Aces left in their wake.
The Thunder will need to do some serious soul-searching to capture their stride before the Idaho Steelheads roll into town for a three game series that is broken up by a quick road trip to meet the Ontario Reign this coming weekend.