The Thunder began their eighth season of play on Friday night, before a home-town crowd of 5,635 in the Stockton Arena against the Ontario Reign from the south. This will be the first of eleven more face-offs between the two teams. They each boarded buses directly following the game, to head to Ontario to play again on Saturday night.
The Reign opened the scoring early in the first period. Stockton’s Harrison Reed was caught with a hooking minor in the first minute of play and before the time was served, Vincent LoVerde wristed the puck past netminder Tyler Bunz at the 2:19 mark. Kyle Kraemer and Dan DeSilva received assists on the goal. Time ticked away, as back and forth action continued through the period. Stockton lead the shots 8-7 as teams left the ice for their first intermission.
Stockton’s Philippe Cornet recently arrived from AHL affiliate Oklahoma City Barons, caught a rebound off of goaltender Jean-Francois Berube to even the score on a power play goal at 2:49 into the second period. Reed and Nathan Deck were credited with the assists.
But the Reign resumed the lead and held on when former Thunder player Colton Yellow Horn zipped a hard shot past Bunz at 4:24 into the period.
When all was said and done, the Reign had outshot Stockton 25-19, dominating action in the Thunder defensive zone, holding them to only four shots on goal during the third.
Head Coach for the Ontario Reign Jason Christie was pleased with the results.
“I thought the goal tenders on both sides played good. It’s good to get that first game under our belt,” he said.
Returning home for their own home opener he remarked on room for improvement.
“We’ve got to make sure that we are ready to go. Our game is the only thing we can control ourselves. We have to be ready for the challenge. You can play all the exhibition games you want, but these games are real. Guys tense up a little bit.”
“Too many guys were watching and not enough playing,” was the reaction from Thunder Coach Matt Thomas. ” They didn’t create the offense we were hoping for. We have a lot of new forwards, so it was a sort of panic mode. But I’m not too worried. It’s something that’s going to come. We need to be a little patient.”
In the third period, a late penalty by the Reign could have allowed the Thunder to gain the equializer during four-on-five play, and Thomas didn’t pull the goalie for the sixth man.
“It’s too easy for [Ontario] to get the empty netter on a clear.” He said he thought about pulling the goalie, but “had a feeling the power play would step-up. But they just didn’t help.”
Stockton’s Garet Hunt began his fifth season with the Thunder and was named Captain earlier in the week.
“He’s a guy that shows up every single night,” said Thomas. “A perfect fit for the players we have in the line-up. He’s a leader off the ice and will stick-up for them on the ice. He’s also really tight in the Stockton community.”
Hunt was named alternate last season. “It’s a natural progression. He showed he’s a leader during training camp. He’s the right guy to make sure the guys are ready to play every night,” added Thomas.
“It’s a great honor.” Hunt said of the opportunity, and of past captaincy’s with the Thunder. “All the guys in the past were class acts and good guys. They taught me so much. I can use what I learned from them.”
Regarding tonight’s game, Hunt said, “There was a lot of back and forth action, but mostly in the neutral zone. We just couldn’t get the pucks in deep,” adding that they’d watch some game video and try to bring something else for their next match up.
The Ontario Reign will host their home-opener with a game in the win column on Saturday night versus the Thunder. The Thunder will likely add some fresh legs to the roster in an attempt to find that special chemistry.
Contact the writer at Shellie.Lima@prohockeynews.com