(photo: Jack Lima Photography)
The last game of the regular season. For both teams the playoff seeding is set. The Stockton Thunder head into the playoffs as the seventh seed and the Las Vegas Wranglers, eighth. The teams met one final time at Stockton Arena on Saturday night. Both were looking for a win and the Thunder brought their A-game to the ice, scoring six goals through 60 minutes of play. Las Vegas scored a lone goal in the second period, on the power play, a shot from the blueline by Charlie Cook, that energized the team, but it wasn’t enough to contain Stockton’s offensive push.
“We wanted to finish on a good note going into the playoffs,” said Thunder Head Coach Rich Kromm. “I thought we had some pretty good efforts on the road and didn’t get the results we wanted so coming home tonight in front of a good crowd on our last game and get that type of effort I thought was very positive.”
The Thunder got the scoring started in the first period with two goals separated by just 45 seconds of play. Ryan Hayes tipped the puck in after Corey Trivino set a blast from the high slot. Andrew Clark followed up with a one-timer from the right circle, receiving the pass from Jeremy Langlois, to get by Wranglers netminder Mitch O’Keefe. There were some tense moments for the Thunder in their defensive end as the Wranglers turned up the heat and tried to capitalize on a golden opportunity. Stockton goaltender Brian Foster, in the scramble around the net, lost his stick. The Thunder collapsed to help their goalie weather the storm as Las Vegas tried to get a shot on goal.
“Everyone did what they had to do,” said Foster about his team’s effort in front of him. “They were blocking shots and throwing their bodies around just to get the puck out.”
The second period opened with a Thunder penalty to defenceman Marc Cantin, putting Las Vegas on the power play. Charlie Cook got the Wranglers on the board with a power play goal. It would be their only goal of the game and the only scoring for the second frame. Both teams had good rushes up the ice and most of the period was filled with end to end action, but neither goalie was willing to give up a goal.
The third period was all Thunder, as the goals came in succession for Stockton. Forward Matt Bergland deflected in a shot off an initial blast by defenceman Scott Langdon. Then Jeremy Langlois put in a beauty of a goal after getting the pass from Ryan Constant to give the Thunder a 4-1 decisive edge. Corey Trivino showed that the Thunder hadn’t finished scoring. While behind the Las Vegas net, he stole the puck and then wrapped it around and in behind O’Keefe. Matt Bergland capped the scoring at 6, cruising into the Wranglers zone and waiting out the goalie, popping the puck behind him as he skated by.
“That’s what we wanted to do, coming in to tonight”, said Brian Foster after the Thunder win. It’s always nice to have a game where you finish the game and you are feeling good and heading into the playoffs next weekend.”
The Thunder will face the second seeded Ontario Reign for the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs that are set to begin on Friday April 18th at Stockton Arena due to a scheduling conflict with Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.
Thunder Head Coach Rich Kromm will need to make some tough decisions with his roster, the final playoff roster due on Monday. It is doubtful he will make any adjustments to his top line of Andrew Clark, Jeremy Langlois and Joey Martin, especially given their success not only with the Thunder late this season but up with the AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Adam Brace, Corey Trivino and Ryan Hayes have been making offensive waves as well, complementing each other’s speed and skill. Matt Bergland, Garet Hunt, and Ryan Constant are the proven workhorses of the team, grinding it out in the corners to get the job done down the stretch.
“We want to make sure we have the right mix,” said Coach Kromm on the upcoming roster decisions to be made. “We have a lot of our guys that are our heart-and-soul guys that have been here and we want to make sure that they are involved too…Bridgeport has given us some depth to work with and ultimately it’s up to me to decide what is going to be the best roster for us going into the playoffs and win a championship.”