Thunder Set to Battle Reign on the Road
The Stockton Thunder (13-8-0-3) travel south to take on their Pacific Division rivals the Ontario Reign (17-3-1-3) tonight at Citizens Business Bank Arena. It’s the first of three games in three nights between the two squads with both teams traveling to Stockton for a meeting on Saturday night before returning to Ontario for a Sunday match-up. The puck drops tonight at 7:00 p.m. PT.
Fans can watch the broadcast at the Thunder’s “Home Away From Home” at the University Plaza Waterfront Hotel while enjoying Thunder food and drink specials. Live video is available through AmericaONE sports or fans can listen to free live audio through StocktonThunder.com and Spreaker.com.
It’s a game between the first and second place teams in the Pacific Division, although there is a gap between the two squads. Ontario comes into the game leading the Western Conference with 38 points, while also being tied for most points in the ECHL with the Eastern Conference’s Florida Everblades. The Thunder have 29 points on the season and are fifth in the conference standings.
This is the fifth meeting between the Thunder and Reign this season with Ontario having picked up the victory in the previous four. Stockton has claimed just a single point from Ontario when the Thunder fell in a shootout on November 27th on the team’s only previous trip to Citizens Business Bank Arena this year. The offense has been the Thunder’s biggest hurdle as the team has scored just 6 goals in the first four games between the teams.
However, the Thunder are coming off a week where the offense was on full display. The team put up 11 goals combined in two games against the San Francisco Bulls and Bakersfield Condors, coming away with a shootout loss and a win. Forward Andrew Clark led the way with back-to-back multi-goal games including a 2-goal and 3-assist performance against Bakersfield last Sunday. The 5 points tied him for the most in a single ECHL game by a player this season along with Alaska’s Peter Sivak. Clark totaled 8 points in the two games and was named the Sher-Wood Hockey ECHL Player of the Week for his efforts.
Clark took over the team lead in goals (10), assists (16) and points (26) and his play did not go unnoticed in the hockey world. On Thursday, Clark was called up to the AHL for the first time in his career, signing a professional try-out contract with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Thunder’s AHL affiliate. Clark was first among ECHL rookies in points and assists and was seventh overall in points among all players at the time of his call-up.
While Clark leaves the line-up, another player will be stepping on the ice for the first time as a Thunder player. Recently acquired defenseman Lee Baldwin is set to make his Thunder debut after being sent over from the Greenville Road Warriors in exchange for forward Brayden Irwin last week. The 25-year-old from Victoria, British Columbia has never suited up for an ECHL team other than the Road Warriors in his five-year professional career.
The Thunder also added another player to the roster this week, although it was a more familiar face. Goaltender Parker Milner returns to the Thunder after being reassigned by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The rookie from Boston College has played in five games with the Thunder this season. With his return to the team, the Thunder traded goalie Brad Phillips to the Gwinnett Gladiators for undisclosed considerations.
The Ontario Reign also received a goalie from their AHL affiliate as netminder Michael Hutchinson returned to the team after a brief stint in the AHL with the St. John’s IceCaps. Along with Hutchinson’s return, the Reign also activated goalie Matthias Niederberger from the reserve list.
The Reign have won their last three straight games with two overtime victories coming in that span, including their most recent win, a 5-4 overtime game against the Las Vegas Wranglers on Monday at midnight. Ontario is led by forwards Derek Couture (19 points), Mario Lamoureux (18 points) and Matt White (18 points), although defenseman Jake Newton has done the most damage against the Thunder with 3 of his 7 goals on the season coming against Stockton.
The Thunder will hope to turn things around this weekend and make a dent in the Reign’s Pacific Division lead. On Saturday the teams meet at Stockton Arena for a 7:30 p.m. start time. The first 3,000 fans entering Stockton Arena will receive a Garet Hunt holiday-themed Thunder poster. Saturday’s game is also a “Never-Wasted-Ticket” night as season ticket and mini-plan holders can exchange unused tickets from earlier this season for tickets to tomorrow night’s contest.