The Stockton Thunder responded to a challenge from Coach Matt Thomas in exactly the way he had hoped on Wednesday night (Jan. 2).
Thomas asked his players to show him more determination as they came off a New Year’s Eve loss to the Utah Grizzlies, and the Thunder delivered by clamping down to earn a 2-1 victory in a rematch between the teams in front of 2,729 witnesses at Maverik Center in West Valley City, UT.
“We played a really hard-fought, gritty, nose-to-the-grindstone road game,” Thomas said by telephone afterward. “We were physical, we competed for pucks and we earned every inch of ice we got. I challenged the guys to step up the effort, and they delivered.”
Stockton goalie Cody Reichard out-dueled Utah’s Andrew Engelage to carry the Thunder (18-10-7) to the decision. Reichard made late second-period goals by Justin Maylan and Matt Bergland stand up as he allowed only a third-period goal by Utah’s Mitch Wahl.
“Both goalies were phenomenal,” Thomas said. “They both made some big saves, but Reichard just happened to be one better.”
The Grizzlies outshot the Thunder 13-9 in the first period, but Reichard and Engelage stopped every shot they faced and the period ended in a scoreless tie.
The game remained scoreless until Maylan scored his 13th goal of the season off assists from Mike Little and Yannick Riendeau with slightly more than three minutes remaining in the second period. The goal marked Maylan’s 30th point, which ranks him tied for first among all ECHL rookies in scoring.
Bergland allowed the Thunder to take a 2-0 lead into the second intermission when he scored just 54 seconds after Maylan’s goal. Garet Hunt and Shawn Boutin were credited with assists on Bergland’s goal, which was his fifth of the season.
Utah (13-12-5) climbed back into the game when Wahl netted a power-play goal off assists from Bryan Cameron and Trevor Lewis with barely more than four minutes expired in the third period. The goal came during a stretch in which Stockton’s Cameron Abney was hit with consecutive penalties for interference and unsportsmanlike conduct.
Although Wahl's goal gave them life, the Grizzlies were unable to produce a game-tying goal against Reichard, who was credited with 26 saves in improving his record to 8-2-4. Engelage made 30 saves in defeat.
Before the game, it was announced that defenseman Nathan Deck, who started the season with Stockton but has been playing with the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League since early December, has been named a starter for the 2013 ECHL All-Star game scheduled for Jan. 23 in Colorado. Before being loaned to the Barons, Deck had recorded 17 points in 19 games with the Thunder and was tied for fourth in scoring among all ECHL defensemen.
Other players named as starters for the All-Star team, which will play against the host Colorado Eagles in the All-Star game, were goalie Philipp Grubauer (Reading), defenseman Denny Urban (Reading) and forwards Casey Pierro-Zabotel (Gwinnett), Justin Dowling (Idaho) and C.J. Stretch (Ontario). Reserves for the All-Star team are expected to be announced on Thursday.
The Thunder will be back in action on Friday (Jan. 4), when the Alaska Aces visit Stockton Arena.
The box score from Wednesday’s game can be viewed here: