After losing leading scorer Yannick Riendeau to a decision to play in Europe, the Stockton Thunder also came up short on the ice Tuesday night (Feb. 5).
The Thunder lost Riendeau when he opted to accept an offer to play in Switzerland, and the team then fell 4-3 to the Bakersfield Condors in front of 2,711 spectators at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, CA.
Bakersfield’s Scott Freeman sent the Thunder to the defeat when he capped a four-point performance by scoring his first goal of the season off assists from Kyle Haines and Francis Verreault to snap a 3-3 tie with not quite three and a half minutes left in the third period. The goal negated an impressive Stockton comeback in which the Thunder wiped out a three-goal deficit to set up the dramatic finish.
“That was a tough one,” Thunder Coach Matt Thomas said by telephone after the game. “We got off to a slow start, but we got it going as the game went on. It was tough to see it get away after we got even, but we got what we deserved to a certain extent because of our slow start.”
The Thunder missed Riendeau, who led the team in scoring with 44 points (14 goals, 30 assists) in 42 games entering play Tuesday but will finish the season in Switzerland after getting an offer that Thomas said was too good to refuse.
“It’s good for him, but bad for us,” said Thomas, who added that Riendeau had turned down a couple of prior offers from teams in Europe. “It takes a great playmaker out of our lineup.”
It appeared the Thunder (24-18-8) might react to Riendeau’s absence by being blown out when the Condors opened a 3-0 lead, but goals by Eric Hunter, Justin Maylan and Maxime Boisclair rallied Stockton back into the game before Freeman delivered his tie-breaking goal.
The goal completed a big night for Freeman, who had an assist on each of Bakersfield’s first three goals. Verreault chipped in two goals and an assist for the Condors, whose other goal was scored by Brett Perlini.
Despite holding an 11-9 advantage in shots in the first period, the Thunder faced a 2-0 deficit at the first intermission. Stockton fell behind almost immediately as Verreault scored off assists from Freeman and Nicholas Tremblay not quite two minutes after the opening faceoff. Perlini added his goal with slightly less than five minutes remaining before the first break. Freeman and Jake Morley were credited with assists on Perlini’s goal, which was his sixth of the season.
Stockton’s first-period deficit could have been worse, but the Thunder survived an extended two-man disadvantage resulting from consecutive penalties to Garet Hunt, Colten Hayes and Hunter shortly after Perlini’s goal.
The Condors (14-31-5) did manage to extend their lead to 3-0 when Verreault struck for his second goal of the game and 14th of the season off an assist from Tremblay barely more than three minutes into the second period. The Thunder finally put a goal on the scoreboard a little more than two minutes later, when Hunter found the net on a Stockton power play. Gabriel Levesque and Matt Bergland were credited with assists on Hunter’s goal, which was his 15th of the season.
The Condors carried their 3-1 cushion into the second intermission, but the Thunder cut the gap to 3-2 when Maylan scored his 18th goal of the season just 1:53 into the third period. Hunt and Hunter had assists on the goal by Maylan, whose 40 points rank him tied for second in scoring among all ECHL rookies.
Boisclair pulled the Thunder into a 3-3 tie with a goal off assists from Hayes and Harrison Reed with 12:27 remaining in regulation time. The goal was Boisclair’s third of the season and gave him seven points in seven games since joining the Thunder on Jan. 24.
Stockton enjoyed a 37-27 advantage in shots for the game, but Bakersfield goalie Scott Greenham made 34 saves in earning the victory. Thunder goalie Tyler Bunz was credited with 23 saves.
Prior to the game, it was announced that Reed was a runner-up for the ECHL Player of the Week award for a second consecutive week. For the period ending Feb. 3, Reed had five points (three goals, two assists) in three games and also scored during a shootout. The weekly award was won by Utah's Colin Vock, who had back-to-back hat tricks for the Grizzlies last week.
The Thunder will visit the Alaska Aces for three games beginning Friday (Feb. 8) before returning home to meet the Ontario Reign on Feb. 15 at Stockton Arena.
The box score from Tuesday’s game can be viewed here: