When the Stockton Thunder obtained Shawn Weller from the South Carolina Stingrays in a trade for Cameron Brodie in late January, Thunder Coach Matt Thomas envisioned Weller making big plays in clutch situations.
Weller, a veteran of nearly 300 games in the American Hockey League and almost 90 in the ECHL, delivered on Saturday night (Mar. 2) by making the play that ended the game as the Thunder earned a 3-2 shootout victory over the Ontario Reign before a crowd of 9,616 at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, CA.
After Stockton’s Ryan Hayes and Maxime Boisclair matched successful attempts by Ontario’s Kyle Kraemer and Brodie Sheahan in the first four rounds of the shootout, Thunder goalie Tyler Bunz stopped Brady Calla before Weller scored on Reign goalie Chris Carrozzi to lift Stockton to the decision. The teams will meet in a rematch on Sunday at Stockton Arena.
“A veteran guy like (Weller) has the patience to seize the moment,” Thomas said by telephone after the game. “That’s why you get guys with that kind of experience.”
Weller’s dramatic game-ender made a winner of Bunz, who made 33 saves to improve his record to 14-13-4 while helping the Thunder win despite being outshot 35-18.
“He battled,” Thomas said of Bunz. “He always has been billed as a highly, highly competitive kid, and his compete level was through the roof.”
Brandon Davidson and Matt Bergland scored regulation-time goals for the Thunder, and Bergland also had an assist. Ontario's goals during regulation time were scored by Kraemer and Kevin Estrada.
The Thunder (30-22-9) got off to a strong start and took a 1-0 lead when Davidson scored on a breakaway barely more than three minutes after the opening faceoff. Bergland and Hayes had assists on the goal, which was Davidson’s fifth of the season and kept him on a point-per-game pace since being assigned to the Thunder from the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL on Feb. 12.
The Reign (39-14-6) answered Davidson’s goal not quite two minutes later, when Estrada scored his second goal of the season off assists from Kraemer and Matthew Clune. Ontario then grabbed a 2-1 lead when Kraemer netted his 24th goal of the season off assists from Mario Lamoureux and Matt Register midway through the first period.
The Reign enjoyed a 13-5 edge in shots in the first period and carried the 2-1 lead into the first intermission, but Bergland pulled the Thunder into a 2-2 tie when he scored a power-play goal slightly more than a minute and a half into the second period. Tony DeHart was credited with the lone assist on Bergland’s goal, which was his 10th of the season.
The score remained 2-2 through the second intermission, and neither team was able to snap the tie in the third period, during which Ontario held a 7-3 advantage in shots. The clubs also failed to produce a goal in overtime, when the Reign outshot the Thunder 5-1.
The victory kept the Thunder six points ahead of the Las Vegas Wranglers for fourth place in the ECHL’s Western Conference and second place in the Pacific Division. The top four teams in the conference at the end of the regular season will have home-ice advantage in the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs.
“I liked the way we manufactured a win on the road,” said Thomas, whose team will have 10 regular-season games remaining after Sunday’s date with the Reign. “We played a smart game defensively, and we kept hanging around and finding ways to stay in it.”
The Thunder played without captain Garet Hunt for a second consecutive game because Hunt was concluding a two-game suspension levied against him for a hit from behind in a game against Ontario last week. Weller served as the team’s acting captain in Hunt’s absence.
Sunday’s game against the Reign will be the first of five in a row at home for the Thunder. The home stand will continue when the Las Vegas Wranglers visit Stockton Arena for back-to-back games on Mar. 8-9 before Ontario returns on Mar. 10.
The box score from Saturday’s game can be viewed here: