STOCKTON, Calif. – The Stockton Thunder have made history again, on Saturday night when they won the Western Conference Finals in game five, sending the Idaho Steelheads to summer break following the 2-1 win.
The 4,530 fans at the Stockton Arena were excited, knowing that the Thunder had the chance to finish this series, with signs suggesting an end to the Steelheads season.
Stockton’s Olivier Roy had one of the best games of the post season, turning away 44 shots on net.
Ryan Hayes scored the only goal of the first period. Tony DeHart shot was stopped by Josh Robinson, but Hayes’s wristed it home to give Stockton the 1-0 lead at 16:50. This was Hayes’s eighth goal of the post-season.
In the second period, Tyler Gron tied the score, with his redirection from a Patrick Cullity shot that got past Roy at 4:39.
The eventual winning goal came at 18:16 of the second period, when Robinson came out of the net to play a shot, and allowed an opening for Andrew Clark to score.
“It was a great pass, their D-man was quick in back, but it looked like their goalie just misplayed it and it went in,” said Clark of the game winning goal.
The intensity picked up in the third period, as the Steelheads played with desperation. Idaho led the third period 13-4 in shots on net, only to have Roy deny all of them. In the final minute, Robinson was pulled from the net, for the extra skater, but the Thunder sealed the door at the final buzzer, with the 2-1 win.
Robinson made 26 saves for the loss.
Coach Matt Thomas was quite excited about the finish and extremely proud of his team.
“Idaho team kept coming and coming. They played a tremendous game. They were playing so well and so hard. We could never get to their level. Olivier [Roy] was the difference. The guys competed hard. They got better as it went on. To be able to do it at home was pretty special.”
The fans were extremely loud, and Thunder captain Garet Hunt wanted to make sure they knew they were appreciated.
“Fans are right on top of us screaming. They get an assist with all our goals and all of our wins,” said Hunt. “That’s why I come back year after year. I love it here. The fans are awesome.”
“This building, our organization, these fans all deserve an opportunity to put a banner in the building to finally get one; it’s a pretty special accomplishment.” Thomas said.
Following the game, the Bruce Taylor Trophy was presented, as the team celebrated with the fans.
Matt Bergland shared his excitement about the win. “It feels really good. It’s hard to explain. But we still have one more series until we get it all. We will celebrate now, but need to get back on task this week, for next weekend to hopefully get it all.”
This marks the first championship of any kind for the Thunder’s team history. Dan Chapman has been the President of the Thunder Organization since they first came to Stockton eight years ago.
“I was the first guy here in January of 2005. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears by everyone involved since that time. It feels amazing and I have a tremendous amount of pride,” Chapman said of the Thunder’s first ever Conference title.
Thomas said, “I’m still trying to let it all sink in. We have an opportunity to play for a championship. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we are excited for the challenge. I know how hard the next step is. I’ve been there. It’s a difficult one. But if anyone can do it, these guys can.”
Thomas was asked about the Kelly Cup Final opponent, Reading. “We don’t get to play them during the season. It’s going to be two teams that don’t know each other. It’s a unique opportunity for both teams. You have to congratulate them too. They are a good team. They were first in the East Conference for a reason.”
The Thunder will go on to face the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Reading Royals beginning May 18. The Royals finished off the Cincinnati Cyclones in five games Saturday night as well.