Thunder Host Idaho for Important Series
The Stockton Thunder (29-26-0-6) open up a very important three out of four game series against the Idaho Steelheads (33-25-3-4) tonight at 7:00 p.m. with playoff seeding implications on the line.
Tonight’s game will be the third to last Family Day of the season as every home game on Wednesday and Sunday’s fans can purchase their Thunder Pride Packs featuring four Upper End Zone tickets, four hot dogs, and four sodas for just $38. Purchase your pack online and you’ll receive a free Thunder hat at no additional charge.
The importance of this series cannot be stressed enough as the Thunder’s regular season has dwindled down to the final 11 games of the season. The Thunder currently sit in 6th in the Western Conference but have at least a game in hand on every team in the Pacific Division, and four games in hand against Idaho who sit a spot above the Thunder in 5th.
The season series has been pretty even this season with the Thunder winning both previous meetings at Stockton Arena and also picking up a win in the Idaho finale back on December 7th.
Certainly bad blood can’t carry over three months can it? That December 7th game featured 128 penalty minutes combined by both teams, the most by two combined ECHL teams in a single game this season. A total of 15 infractions were called against the Thunder with 18 going the way of the Steelheads.
It was a tough third period as 90 of the 128 penalty minutes were dished out with five players picking up Misconduct penalties for continuing an altercation, one player who received a misconduct penalty for abuse of officials, and one just for misconduct.
It would be the Thunder who’d ultimately prevail in the penalty fest thanks to Joey Martin’s 4th goal of the season 1:26 seconds before the midway mark in the third.
Leading the way in production for the Thunder against the Steelheads is Ryan Constant with 3 goals and 4 assists in 5 games against Idaho. The defenseman, who has missed the last nine contests with a lower body injury but could be nearing a return.
Behind Constant in production against the Steelheads is the player recently returned to the Thunder after his Professional Tryout with the Sound Tigers ended in Martin. The Thorold, Ontario native has scored 3 of his team leading 17 goals against Idaho and has added 2 assists to go a point per game against Idaho. Martin scored and added 3 assists in his return to the lineup on Saturday but was held without a point in Sunday’s loss to the Aces.
You could very well see two new faces out on the ice tonight as forward Brady Ramsay and Brad Stebner could make their professional debuts after completing their junior and college careers respectively.
Ramsay made his mark with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes where he led his team in points this past season. The Calgary, Alberta native has scored over 40 points in his last three seasons in junior, but also brings a physical and tough game that could be debuted in front of the home crowd tonight.
As for Stebner, he comes to the Thunder after his NCAA season with Michigan Tech came to a close. The former Huskies captain is 6’4”, 210 lbs. of stay-at-home defense. With Ben Rosen recently called up to the AHL, the Thunder only have six other defenseman on the roster (including the injured Constant) plus the dual-talented Mathieu Gagnon.
With Rosen recalled to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the AHL side sent back Adam Brace to the Thunder. The forward who was acquired in an AHL trade back on Valentine’s Day and since that time fans have grown fond of Brace’s game.
The forward has played in 41 games in the ECHL this season after starting the year in the AHL. In 31 games with the Cincinnati Cyclones, Brace picked up just 8 goals and 13 assists, but in 10 contests with the Thunder, the former Robert Morris University star has 5 goals and 3 assists.
The Thunder also have a couple other Bridgeport Sound Tigers who are enjoying their first stint at this level in Joey Diamond and Alan Quine, who both are point per game players. Diamond has three helpers in his three games in the ECHL while Quine scored his first ECHL goal on Sunday and has added a total of 2 assists in his two previous ECHL games.
As for the Idaho Steelheads, they are led by Californian Mitch Wahl with 17 goals and 37 assists. The Seal Beach, CA native has 3 goals and 4 assists against the Thunder and was one of the players that picked up a third period misconduct penalty in the December 7th meeting to boost his penalty minutes to 16 against the Thunder.
The only player who’s contributed more to the Steelheads’ success against the Thunder has been Anthony Nigro who has 3 goals and 5 assists vs. Stockton this season. In total, Nigro has 17 goals and 29 assists this season but has missed the last 8 games.
The team leader in goals is Tommy Grant who has 19 tallies on the season to go along with his 24 assists. Grant has 4 points against the Thunder in 5 games played with half of his points finding the back of the net.
The Steelheads have seven players who have over 30 points on their roster and have five players who have 15 or more goals this year.
Idaho has three goaltenders on the roster in Pat Nagle, Josh Robinson, and Kevin Kapalka. Nagle leads the goaltenders in games played and ranks tied with several goaltenders, including Brian Foster, with 21 wins. Kapalka has been the go-to between the pipes having played in parts of the last 4 games going 2-1-0-0 in that span.
Kapalka came in to relieve Nagle on March 16 when the team fell to the Ontario Reign, but in the team’s most recent game in Utah, Kapalka was pulled himself and gave way to Robinson who finished the game out.
Tonight’s game once again marks a three game series between the teams with the only difference from last time is the Thunder will have a fourth game on the road to Ontario on Saturday that is sandwiched by home contests against the Steelheads.
The only playoff scenario that can happen today is the Ontario Reign clinching the Pacific Division title if they win or lose in overtime or the shootout. They can also clinch if the Thunder lose tonight.
Next up will be another home contest against the Idaho Steelheads on Friday night, another rally towel night at the Arena with the first 1,500 fans in Stockton Arena picking up white rally towels on their way in! The Thunder will then hit the road on Saturday and return for the second to last Family Day, so purchase your Pride Packs while you have the chance!
The final Family Day of the year is next Wednesday when the Thunder host the Ontario Reign and after that is the team’s final big promotional event of the year, Military Appreciation Weekend on April 4th and 5th. A portion of event proceeds will benefit Welcome Home Heroes and service men and women will be honored all weekend!