Eagles Visit for Hockey with Heart
It’s a battle between the third and fourth place teams in the Western Conference as the Stockton Thunder (21-14-0-5) welcome the Colorado Eagles (21-12-5-2) into Stockton Arena tonight for the second and final time this season. Puck drops at 7:30 p.m. PST.
Stockton Arena doors open at 6:30 for the Thunder’s annual “Hockey With Heart” event. The first 1,000 fans, 18 and older, entering the arena receive a free Hockey With Heart t-shirt as well as a Go Red Passport Card that can be used to win prizes. Fans that cannot make it out to the game can catch live video of the action through AmericaONE Sports, or listen to free live audio through Spreaker.com and StocktonThunder.com.
The Thunder come into the game in second place in the Pacific Division standings with 47 points on the season. They trail the Eagles by two points in the Western Conference, but cannot pass Colorado tonight, even with a regulation win, as they do not have the tiebreaker.
The last time the Eagles were in town was opening night of the season when the Thunder celebrated its 2012-13 success by raising their Western Conference Champions banner. The celebration carried over onto the ice as the Thunder outclassed Colorado to the tune of a 5-0 win. Captain Garet Hunt scored just 32 seconds into the game and four players scored their first goals in a Thunder uniform. Goaltender Brian Foster has 29 saves for his sixth career ECHL shutout.
The Thunder are coming off a weekend split of a home-and-home series with the Ontario Reign, where the road team won each contest. The team is led by forward Joey Martin who paces the squad with 37 points on 10 goals and 27 assists, the latter stat being tied for fourth most in the ECHL. Hunt leads the Thunder in goals with 13 on the season and is one away from breaking his personal best for most goals in a season, which he set back in 2010-11. Hunt added three assists over last weekend’s games and now also has a career-best in points in a single season with 32, passing his mark of 30 set in that same season three years ago.
In net, Foster has received some reinforcements with the return of Parker Milner from the AHL. The 23-year-old rookie goalie made three starts in his most recent stretch with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, winning all of them, and now returns for his third stint in the ECHL. Foster had made eight straight starts in his absence, going 4-3-1 in that span. Milner has a 3-6-0 record with the Thunder this season and has won his last two starts with the team.
Meanwhile, Colorado enters the game on a two-game losing streak having suffered back-to-back defeats against the two leaders of the Mountain and Pacific divisions, the Alaska Aces and Ontario Reign. The Eagles will look to forwards Trent Daavettila, Kevin Ulanski and Kyle Ostrow to help snap their skid. The trio has provided the team with a majority of the offense this season with all three players over 40 points on the year and among the top five players in the league for most points. The offense has been the team’s biggest strength, as Colorado has not been shut out in a game since that 5-0 loss to the Thunder in October.
Along the blue line, defenseman Kevin Young and Daniel Johnston have chipped in some points with 22 and 18 respectively. In goal, netminder Marc Cheverie has made the majority of the team’s starts and is fourth in the league in wins with 14, one place behind Foster who has 17 wins for the Thunder.
This is the fourth meeting between the teams this season as the Thunder traveled to Colorado for a two-game set, winning one, which gives Stockton a 2-1-0-0 record against the Eagles. The teams will meet three more times this year when the Thunder head to Colorado again for a three-game set at the end of February.
Those games are part of a busy road month for the Thunder who play just two games at Stockton Arena before the calendar changes to March. The Thunder’s next and last game at home in February is on Saturday the 15th when the team welcomes in the Utah Grizzlies on Star Wars night.