If Stockton Thunder Coach Matt Thomas was drinking at midnight on New Year’s Eve, it probably was because his team drove him to it.
More specifically, the Thunder power play was enough to drive anyone to the bottle as Stockton went 0-for-6 in extra-man situations and was torched for three short-handed goals in a 5-1 loss to the Utah Grizzlies before a crowd of 8,226 at Maverik Center in West Valley City, UT, on Monday night (Dec. 31). The teams will meet again on Wednesday night at the same location.
The three short-handed goals by the Grizzlies established a Stockton franchise record for the most allowed in a single game and were more than the team had given up all season. The Grizzlies also scored a power-play goal to counter a short-handed strike by Stockton’s Toni Rajala.
“We had a tough night on special teams,” Thomas said by telephone after the game. “Outside of that, we actually played well.”
Riley Armstrong accounted for two of Utah’s short-handed goals and Colin Vock had the other. Vock also scored an even-strength goal, and Mitch Wahl had Utah’s power-play goal.
Ironically, the Thunder (17-10-7) entered the game ranked second in the ECHL in power-play efficiency (23.9%) and Utah opened play as the league's worst penalty-killing team(71.0%). Those statistics meant nothing, however, as Armstrong netted a pair of short-handed goals in the second period to break open a scoreless game and stake the Grizzlies to a 2-0 lead. Both of Armstrong’s goals – his 13th and 14th of the season -- were scored on breakaways and came unassisted.
Vock pushed Utah’s advantage to 3-0 when he scored the only even-strength goal of the game with slightly less than seven minutes left in the second period. Armstrong and Trevor Lewis were credited with assists on the goal.
Rajala cut Stockton’s deficit to 3-1 when he scored an unassisted goal during a penalty kill not quite four minutes into the third period. The goal was Rajala’s team-leading 18th of the season.
The Grizzlies (13-11-5) stretched their lead to 4-1 barely more than a minute after Rajala scored, re-establishing their three-goal cushion when Wahl delivered a power-play goal 23 seconds before a holding penalty against Stockton’s Mike Little would have expired.
Vock capped the scoring with another short-handed goal off an assist from Wahl with 8:59 to play.
Stockton enjoyed a 35-28 edge in shots during the game, but Utah goalie Andrew Engelage made 34 saves in earning the victory. Thunder goalie Tyler Bunz was credited with 23 saves in defeat.
Thunder defenseman Teigan Zahn was back in the tean's lineup after serving a one-game suspension for an elbowing incident during a game in Bakersfield last week.
Following Wednesday's rematch with the Grizzlies, the Thunder will return home for a game against the Alaska Aces on Friday at Stockton Arena.
The box score from Monday’s game can be viewed here: