Thunder in the Shark Tank

Friday, 12.07.12 / 7:07 PM
By Stockton Thunder Staff

Thunder players to get taste of NHL experience on Dec. 17 at HP Pavilion at San Jose

MORE: Details, free admission information for Thunder vs. San Francisco game at San Jose

By Ruben Dominguez – Thunder Staff Writer

Tuesday, the Stockton Thunder’s already historic season got an unexpected twist.

The Thunder have an offensive firepower that has so far seen a tie for the best nine-game start in team history. Forward Toni Rajala was named Sher-Wood Hockey ECHL Player of the Week earlier this season. The Thunder have compiled a record good enough to be tied for the Pacific Division lead.

On top of all of that, the Thunder received news that a regular-season game against the San Francisco Bulls has been rescheduled to Monday, Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m.

What makes the rescheduling so special is that the new game will be played at HP Pavilion at San Jose, home of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, in San Jose, Calif.

“It’s a great opportunity to play in an awesome arena,” Thunder captain Garet Hunt said, “I personally have never been to a Sharks game there. So, I’m doubly excited.”

The game has a special significance for Hunt, who not only will be playing on NHL ice for the first time, but will have two special fans in attendance that Monday night.

“My parents are coming into town next week,” said Hunt, “so they’ll have a chance to come to the game. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play in front of my parents and I’m excited about them coming out. It’s a chance for them to check out the new arena and it’s a chance for me to play there. It’s probably my last chance to play in a place like that.”

“Anytime you get to play in an NHL venue, it’s the bee’s knees,” said Thunder head coach Matt Thomas, “We’ve all played in big buildings and environments like that at some points in our career, so I don’t think it’s going to be out of the ordinary for the guys. We’re hoping there’s a big crowd, and I think there will be. That excitement’s certainly there for all of us.”

The game will be the first in Thunder history to be played on current NHL ice. HP Pavilion, located just 80 miles away from Stockton Arena, has a full capacity of 17,562 seats for hockey and recently underwent a $16.5 million renovation in 2007. It was named the “toughest road arena” in a 2010 Sports Illustrated poll of current NHL players.

“I think both teams are excited to play in that type of arena,” Thomas said, “For anyone that’s ever seen a game there, it’s a loud building. The Sharks have a very passionate fan base that has a lot of pride in their Sharks.”

Besides the unique opportunity to play in an NHL arena, the game is significant on many other levels. Because of the current NHL labor dispute, the game will be the first professional hockey game played in the arena in quite some time. The last was Game 4 of the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs between the Sharks and St. Louis Blues. Simply put, Sharks fans will be a big presence at the game and will help create a top-notch atmosphere.

In addition, the capacity of HP Pavilion combined with the ravenous support of the Stockton Thunder faithful—the Thunder has drawn over 1.5 million fans since 2005-06, its first ECHL season, and led the league in attendance from 2005-09—could produce big attendance numbers. Also, with the game on such a big stage, there will certainly be several NHL scouts in attendance. With that kind of crowd, atmosphere, and NHL presence at the game, the Thunder will be prepared and focused, but not intimidated.

“We’re not going to need a ton of motivation,” Thomas said, “But there’s going to be a certain motivation for guys, playing in that kind of venue. There’s probably going to be a lot of NHL scouts there as a result.”

“I’m pretty excited about it,” Thunder defenseman Teigan Zahn said, “I mean, to be able to play in an NHL rink is exciting. I haven’t played against San Francisco, so it’ll be a good experience to play those guys and to play in an NHL rink. I’ve played in NHL rinks in Canada, but not one in the US, with their fans. So that’ll be a fun experience.”

Before the Thunder can get to San Jose, however, they must take care of business first. The Stockton Thunder and the San Francisco Bulls will play four days before their date in San Jose. That game will serve as a very interesting preview, as the Thunder will face the only Western Conference team have not beaten this season (the Thunder has yet to play Colorado).

“It’s no secret that we haven’t beaten them yet this season,” Thomas said, “I’m looking for us to come out and have a better effort then we’ve had before. I think we’ve got the opportunity to play a much better team game than we’ve done. I’m really going to stress that the Thursday night game in San Francisco has got to be one where we bring out A-game in terms of effort end execution.”

The Dec. 17 game will mark a new point in Thunder history. With such a great venue, atmosphere, attention, and significance, this game will be something special and something not to be missed.

“It’s something different,” Thomas said, “something unconventional. We play 72 ECHL games, and they’re generally in the same buildings that we’re used to playing in. So this is different and a unique experience. It’s a going to be a great game to be a part of. Hopefully we can go out there and have a good game and a great result.”