(photo: Jack Lima Photography)
The season hasn’t been easy for the Stockton Thunder. At almost the halfway mark of the ECHL season, the team sits in the 6th spot in the Pacific Division and 11th overall in the Western Conference. They have struggled to score, their offense at times being a bit too picky once they are in a scoring position. Although they have scored on the power play and rank 5th in the league, they have allowed 7 shorthanded goals this season, a momentum killer in the heat of the game. The penalty kill, ranked in the basement, 25th in the league, is literally killing them. If they are to make a positive push in the standings, they will need to generate more shots on goal and score early. On many occasions, the Thunder play a game of catchup after allowing an early goal. They have also struggled to maintain a lead. In last Saturday’s contest against the Bakersfield Condors, the Thunder allowed three unanswered goals in the third period, forcing the game into overtime and a shootout. Although they went on to win, it was game they had in hand, but gave away in the last frame.
“We just have to have that killer instinct,” said Thunder Forward Jack MacLellan about allowing Bakersfield back in the game. “No lead is safe and we can’t coast till the end if we want to win games. We need to lock things up in the last 20.”
The penalty kill needs to improve. The Thunder have been outworked shorthanded and better on ice communication is key to making certain that the ice is covered. There are signs it is getting cleaned up, the Thunder only allowed the Condors two powerplay goals out of ten opportunities during last weekend’s games.
It isn’t all gloom and doom, though as the Thunder move into the New Year, despite losing arguably their most solid veteran defenseman Ryan Constant to serious injury. The rest of the team is putting in the work and solid contributions are coming both up front and on the back end with goaltending.
Lukas Sutter continues to bring energy to the Thunder lineup. The rookie isn’t afraid to take a player into the boards and work the corners or be a sore spot for the opposing teams’ goaltender. He also isn’t shy about dropping the gloves for a teammate. Sutter is the most penalized rookie in the league and the fifth most in the league overall with 119 penalty minutes of box time. He is good at getting under the skin of the opposition. He also has developed solid chemistry with linemates Alex Mallet and J.T. Barnett and the three have generated a buzz around the net over the last five games they have shared the ice. They all bring an edge to the offense and can get behind defenders and laser the puck to the slot area.
Jack MacLellan began the season quietly but his offense has heated up as of late. Running around on the ice with linemates Tyler Maxwell and Adam Phillips, pucks seem to find their way to the back of the net. In the most recent series against the Bakersfield Condors, MacLellan had a career high three assists in a single game and earned his team-leading eighth multi-point game of the year.
Of his linemates MacLellan said,“I thought we played pretty well as a line. We got a couple really good breaks and I thought [Adam] Phillips stepped in that role there and played really well.”
Phillips, who has played a dual role for the Thunder, both on the blueline and as a puck chaser, earned his fifth multi-point game of the year with two assists in the Saturday game against the Condors as he was able to place a few well timed passes to forward Tyler Maxwell and new defenseman Mario Larocque. Phillips, being one of the larger players on the team, creates space around him and has the reach to poke the puck past oncoming defenders. Coming from the blueline, he is also tuned in to being more defensively minded as a forward and can transition well on turnover attempts.
Tyler Maxwell plays a complete game and since coming back from injury and with forward Peter Sivak away in Bridgeport, the small crafty forward has just picked up where he left off with points. Coach Kromm noted that not just offensively, but defensively, Maxwell has played a solid game since coming back. “His back pressure and the way he plays in the dzone is really good and it helps to create offense when you have guys working hard to get back.”
The Thunder have a bit of a goaltending conundrum with three tenders assigned to the team. Each have their merits and bring a slightly different style between the pipes. Shane Owen has been a force in the net for the Thunder and aside from a few rough starts, has had a stellar season so far. If you need a refresher on his career and skill, take a look at a previous post where he captured ECHL CCM Goaltender of the Week accolades. He is flashy at times, and seems to be able to make the impossible stops despite traffic and collisions in front of him. His confidence in net carries over to the defencemen manning the blueline.
Philippe Trudeau hasn’t seen a lot of action for the Thunder and he had a shaky start at the beginning of the season. He is gaining confidence, but he needs a solid defensive effort in front of him to help him manage puck traffic. He is still very young as a goaltender at 20 years of age and is still developing. He had his best game of the season against the Bakersfield Condors last Saturday night, standing on his head at times as the Condors stepped up the offensive pressure late in the game. Following the shootout win, Captain and Assistant Coach Garet Hunt remarked, “[Philippe Trudeau] was a stud tonight. I thought he stood up on his head and in truth he deserved better from us. He gave us the 4-1 lead and we let them come back. I took that bad penalty at the end of the game even if I thought he went down easy on me, but we got the win and he stood on his head in the shootout.”
Kent Simpson, the third goaltender for the Thunder, has been up and down and all around this season. He came over in a trade and has been back and forth with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers twice since being acquired. As he sees more action in front of him, Simpson has responded solidly, allowing very few rebound attempts. He can handle himself with traffic in the blue paint and gives his defensemen the support they need when it comes down to the footrace.