RECAP: Thunder Booms in San Jose
Rajala’s hat trick powers Thunder past Bulls, 6-4 at HP Pavilion at San Jose
FINAL STATS: Box score
By Ruben Dominguez – Thunder staff writer
By Ruben Dominguez – Thunder staff writer
SAN JOSE, Calif. – In one of the most anticipated regular season games in the history of the organization, the Stockton Thunder (15-7-3-2, 35 points) squared off against the San Francisco Bulls at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, home of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks. The spotlight brought out the best of the Thunder, as they defeated the Bulls for the first time this season in a wild 6-4 contest in front of 12,881 fans in San Jose.
The Thunder received a stellar effort from forward Toni Rajala, who recorded the team’s first hat trick of the season and first in over a calendar year. Goaltender Cody Reichard (7-1-2) earned the win, stopping 25 shots.
“[Rajala] is certainly a player that I think is going to play in the NHL one day,” Thunder head coach Matt Thomas said. “I haven’t seen a player as electrifying as him in quite some time. The funny thing is I don’t even know if his goals were that electrifying. He just knows how to handle the puck, and if you give him time, he can do it.”
For the third consecutive matchup between the two teams, the Bulls got on the board first. Jordan Morrison fed Mikael Tam on the left side, where, from just below the blue line, Tam launched a shot through traffic. The puck made it past Reichard, putting San Francisco up 1-0 9:21 into the opening frame.
The Thunder response came just 32 seconds later. Defenseman Tony DeHart poked the puck free to Rajala on the left side. Rajala carried the puck to just above the circles, where he fired a wrist shot that beat Heemskerk glove side, tying the contest at 1-1.
The third Thunder power play of the night paid dividends, as defenseman Mike Little swung the puck around the left side to Ryan Constant, who passed it across to Rajala.
Rajala uncorked a shot from just above the right circle that found the net, putting the Thunder up 2-1 15:25 into the first period.
San Francisco evened the game just 1:36 into the second period. Rob Kwiet carried the puck in front of the Thunder goal, dishing it off to Kris Belan, who stashed it by Reichard to tie the score at 2-2.
Again, the Thunder provided a quick response. Little carried the puck from the right side along behind the Bulls net. Little swung around the left post and sent a shot at Heemskerk. The puck bounced off Heemskerk’s left shoulder and into the net, giving the Thunder a 3-2 lead 4:47 into the second period.
Collecting a loose puck behind his net, Heemskerk had his clearance attempt intercepted by center Justin Maylan, who dished it off to forward Garet Hunt in front of goal. Hunt buried the puck into the net before Heemskerk could return to his position, increasing the Thunder lead to 4-2 at 15:12 of the second period.
Just after the restart, forward Yannick Riendeau found the puck behind the San Francisco goal. Riendeau sent a backhanded pass in front of goal to center Eric Hunter, whose shot deflected off Heemskerk’s right pad. Rajala pounced on the rebound, putting the puck in the net. The third and final piece of Rajala’s hat-trick gave the Thunder a 5-2 lead at the 16:00 mark in the second period.
In a flash, the Thunder scored two goals in just 48 seconds. That resulted in a goaltender change for San Francisco, as Taylor Nelson replaced Heemskerk.
The third power play of the night also proved fruitful for the Bulls. Kwiet found Sacha Guimond, who fired a shot from almost the exact same spot as Tam’s first period goal. The result was the same, as the puck went by Reichard, as the Thunder lead was cut to 5-3 just 2:56 into the third period.
The Bulls cut the deficit to one 12:46 into the third period. Andrew Crescenzi carried the puck to goal on the first side, dishing the puck off to an open Alex Tuckerman in front of goal. Tuckerman converted, making the score 5-4.
Forward Cameron Abney put an end to any drama in the final minutes. Center Matt Bergland sent a wrist shot at Nelson, who made the save. The puck trickled in front of goal, and Abney cleaned up the rebound, scooping the puck into the net to put Thunder on top 6-4 17:02 in the third period.
Heemskerk made 15 saves before being pulled. Nelson recorded 12 stops in relief.
NOTES: The Thunder scratched Matt Reber, Kevin Noble, and Harrison Reed…tonight’s ECHL game was the first to be played on NHL ice since Oct. 2, 2002 (Wheeling vs. Peoria at Mellon Arena)…Toni Rajala’s hat trick was the first for the Thunder since Kevin Baker notched three against Bakersfield on Dec. 10, 2011…Garet Hunt’s goal broke a personal nineteen-game scoreless streak…Yannick Riendeau has now recorded a point in nine of the last eleven games…the Thunder have now beaten every team they have played this season at least once.
The Thunder will continue their six-game road trip with a three-game series against the Alaska Aces at Sullivan Arena. The first of those games will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 8:15 p.m. (StocktonThunder.com).
A two time recipient of the ECHL “Award of Excellence,” the Thunder led the ECHL in attendance for four consecutive seasons and drew over 200,000 fans for the seventh consecutive season in 2011-12. Season Tickets, Group Tickets and Mini-Plans for 2012-13 are on sale now. For more information about tickets, merchandise, or other inquiries contact the Stockton Thunder offices at (209) 373-1500 or visit www.StocktonThunder.com
1. STK – T. Rajala
2. SF – R. Kwiet
3. SF – K. Belan