The Stockton Thunder and back-up goalie Matt Cooper pulled off a grand theft against the Ontario Reign on Friday night (Mar. 15).
After Cooper replaced an injured Tyler Bunz late in the first period, the Thunder overcame a pair of two-goal deficits and stole a 5-4 shootout victory over the Reign before a crowd of 9,616 at Citizen’s Business Bank Arena in Ontario, CA.
The heist was particularly remarkable considering that Stockton was outshot 43-17. The Thunder and Reign will meet in a rematch at Stockton Arena on Saturday night.
“We all should be wearing masks on our way out of this building,” Thunder Coach Matt Thomas quipped by telephone after the game. “But as much as we didn’t deserve to win, we found a way.”
Cooper found a way to earn his first victory as a professional by recording 26 saves before going a perfect 4-for-4 in the shootout. Stockton’s Ryan Hayes and Maxime Boisclair scored during the shootout to present Cooper with the decision.
“That was a pretty special performance by him,” Thomas said of Cooper. “What else can you say?”
Ironically, Thomas was expecting to release Cooper after the game because the Thunder announced earlier in the day that goalie Olivier Roy was being reassigned to Stockton from the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League. Plans changed, however, because of the injury to Bunz and the solid play of Cooper, who also was good in a relief role on Wednesday night at Stockton Arena.
“He (Cooper) was supposed to be catching a plane,” said Thomas, who added that he was unsure of the extent of the injury to Bunz. “He’s canceling that flight.”
The Thunder (33-25-9) twice trailed by a pair of goals before staging a dramatic rally and eventually taking a 4-3 lead on a goal by Nathan Deck slightly more than nine minutes into the third period. Hayes and Shawn Weller had assists on Deck’s goal, which was his seventh of the season.
Deck’s goal held up until Ontario’s David Walker forced the game to overtime by scoring his first goal of the season off assists from Kyle Kraemer and Matt Register with exactly one minute left in regulation time. The only other goal allowed by Cooper was scored in the second period by Kevin Estrada.
Stockton was outshot 17-4 in the first period, which ended with the Reign (42-16-7) holding a 2-0 lead on goals by Brady Calla and Kevin Baker.
Calla got the Reign on the scoreboard first when he netted his 10th goal of the season off assists from Register and Mario Lamoureux not quite 12 minutes into the game. Baker added his seventh goal of the season barely more than five minutes later, when he scored off assists from Matthew Clune and Adrian Van de Mosselaer.
Bunz suffered his injury and was replaced by Cooper with a minute and a half remaining in the first period. Bunz made 13 saves before leaving. Ontario goalie Dustin Carlson made 12 saves during the entire game.
The Thunder climbed back into the game when Colten Hayes scored just 1:23 into the second period to cut Stockton’s deficit to 2-1. Matt Bergland and newcomer Nik Pokulok were credited with assists on the goal, which was the second of the season for Hayes.
Ontario’s lead grew to 3-1 when Estrada delivered his fourth goal of the season off assists from Kraemer and Cameron Burt at 5:42 of the second period, but Stockton struck for two goals in the final 38 seconds of the period to leave the teams locked in a 3-3 tie at the second intermission.
Ryan Constant ignited the period-ending fireworks by scoring his ninth goal of the season off an assist from Ryan Hayes with 37.9 seconds remaining before the break, and Boisclair added his added his eighth goal of the season just 17.2 seconds later. Mike Little was credited with the only assist on Boisclair’s goal.
Roy is expected to be available for Saturday night’s game against the Reign. Roy has appeared in four games with the Thunder this season, compiling a record of 3-1-0 with a goals-against average of 1.24 and a save percentage of .962.
The box score from Friday’s game can be viewed here: