(photo: Jack Lima Photography)
It was a mixed bag for the Stockton Thunder, who celebrated their tenth anniversary by hosting the Alaska Aces for a three game series. In the end, the Thunder collected three out of a possible six points. Both teams sit in the last two positions in the Pacific Division, so gaining points was critical.
The first game in the series ended in overtime with last second heroics from the Alaska Aces. In fact, those same last minute goals were what allowed Alaska to take it to an extra frame. Aces rookie forward Olivier Archambault netted a goal with just 46 seconds left in the third period. Archambault has been dangerous on the ice and in 20 games he has 13g, 9a for 22 points, earning the CCM ECHL Rookie of the Month for November. The Aces would then score the overtime winner as Brad Cole wristed the puck past Thunder netminder Kent Simpson with just 42 seconds left on the clock, the final score 4-3 Alaska. Late goals are momentum changers, giving life to the goal scorers and deflating the team that lets the puck slip by. Both teams have a knack for scoring in the dwindling seconds of a period, but in this weekend series it was definitely the Aces who were able to use them to their advantage.
“It’s about bearing down when you are on the ice with a one goal lead at the end of the period,” said Head Coach Kromm about the Thunder’s struggles to keep the Aces from scoring in the last moments of the period. “Those goals are always momentum shifters in our favor if we are able to score a goal in the last minute or score a short handed goal, those are areas right now where they have the upper hand on us.”
Short handed goals against are something the Thunder have had struggles with as the power play has looked more like a power outage over the last few games. Stockton has been generating very few shots on goal with the man advantage; it’s hard to score a power play goal with so few good looks at the net. In last Friday’s game the Thunder were one-for-seven on the power play and allowed a short-handed goal by Aces forward Chris Francis with just 48 seconds left in the second period .
“They pressured really aggressively and we didn’t recognize some of their strategies,” said Coach Kromm. “Shorthanded goals are killers and we can’t allow those types of goals. On our end we have to be more effective putting the puck in the net on the power play than we were.”
Solid defence is one way to keep the puck out of the net. Solid blueliners give the forwards some insurance and confidence to venture into the offensive zone and score. For the last game in the series the Thunder were able to tighten up defensively and kill Alaska’s fast zone entries right at the blueline. Defencemen John Ryder has quietly been contributing to the Thunder blueline since his arrival in early November. He does all the little things right, whether it be poke checking at the blueline or digging the puck out of the corners, Ryder is making an impact and his hard work is getting noticed.
“I try to just stand guys up at the blueline and if I can, lay a big hit.,” said Ryder on his playing style. “But mainly just play simple, chip pucks out, make safe plays and let our forwards get it done on the offensive end.”
In the game last Saturday night, his diving poke check to fling the puck back down into the Aces zone prevented an odd man rush. Ryder’s grittiness in the corners stymied the drive of Alaska forward Brendan Connolly, who has had a scoring streak against the Thunder.
Coach Kromm commented on Ryder’s simple but effective game. “Sometimes the simple is a lot better. When you don’t really notice the defensemen that usually means that they are doing their job well. Ryder was physical all night and kept it simple and it made a difference for us.”
Forwards Making Marks
Since Alexandre Mallet‘s arrival, his name has been a constant on the game sheet, in goals scored and making textbook passes for the assist. He’s been paired up with Jt Barnett, who scored his first goal in a Thunder sweater during last Thursday’s game and continues to impress. He is a speedy skater and is able to quickly get up the boards, generating odd man rushes that have led to goals. Barnett isn’t afraid to stick up for his teammates too. After forward Lukas Sutter took a big hit from behind, JT stepped up.
“Anybody that gets hit like that, especially one of my friends, I have to step in and stick up for him,” said Barnett after Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Aces. “I like to play with a lot of emotion and those moments bring it out of me.”
Barnett said that playing physical against the Aces top line was definitely a strategy because it wasn’t something that Alaska wanted to do. His physical play gave the Thunder momentum and seemed to turn the tide in their favour for the rest of the game. In a way it knocked the wind out of the Aces offense and opened the door for recent arrival Sebastian Collbergs‘ phenomenal goal. Collberg, down from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on a conditioning stint, walked around the Aces defense as he dangled the puck and then went upstairs with just three minutes remaining in Saturday’s game to net the game winner.
“It was just a nice pass and I didn’t really know where the defender was going to go so I just tried to make a move and get a shot away and fortunately it went in,” said Collberg on the game winner. “When you play three games you learn how they play against you. Tonight we played a 60-minute game and I think that’s why we got the win.”
Tenth Anniversary Jerseys
The Thunder took the ice on Friday and Saturday nights wearing their new Tenth Anniversary sweaters. They will take the place of their alternate jerseys for this season. They are definitely sharp, showcasing a full set of lightning bolts on the front and sleeves. Here is Thunder forward Ryan Hayes sporting the new look. The jerseys went on the road as Stockton takes on the Colorado Eagles in a four game series out in Loveland, Colorado.