STOCKTON, Calif -Training camp is over, pre-season games have all been played, players have been signed and rosters have been determined. Most ECHL teams have listed their final starting night roster by now. Let the games begin.
“The team you saw [last Saturday night] will be much different come Friday night,” said Coach Matt Thomas, following the final pre-season game against the Bakersfield Condors at Stockton Arena. “W e are expecting more guys and we will have to make some difficult decisions. We have until Wednesday. We will be dissecting video and taking our time to make decisions.”
Thomas spoke of the latest players that were enroute from the Oklahoma City Barons and due to arrive soon. This included goaltenders Tyler Bunz and Cody Reichard, Defenseman Teigan Zahn and forwards Phillipe Cornet, Toni Rajala. Last season, Cornet led the Barons with 24 goals. Bunz is a fifth round (121st overall) draft pick from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Oilers and won the Del Wilson Trophy as the WHL Goaltender of the Year last season with the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Rajala played last season in Finland, playing in 51 games, earning 16 goals and 13 assists. He was also a fourth round (101st overall) draft pick in the 2009 Entry Draft by the Oilers.
Zahn was selected in the seventh round (186th overall) by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Last season, the rookie skated with University of Calgary (CIS) and tied for the team lead with 12 assists (15 points).
Among the others that round out the opening day roster, includes defensemen Shawn Boutin, Cameron Brodie, Ryan Constant, Nathan Deck, Tony DeHart, Rob Kwiet and Mike Little; forwards Matt Bergland, Jesse Fratkin, Ryan Green, Garet Hunt, Eric Hunter, Matt Reber, Harrison Reed, Gabriel Levesque, Phil Mangan, Justin Maylan and Evan Vossen.
Vossen was immediately placed on the 21-day injured reserve, while Fratkin, Boutin and Green were both placed in reserve, leaving 21 skaters and two goaltenders.
The Thunder will face the Ontario Reign on Friday, October 12 at the Stockton Arena to kick off their eighth season. Historically, the Thunder was 5-5-2 against the Reign last season. Stockton is 3-4-0 lifetime in home openers, something that Coach Thomas wants to change drastically.
“Try to win game one,” said Thomas when asked about his short-term goals.
Thunder owner, Brad Rowbotham, is looking forward to the beginning of the season.
“I think we have got some guys with great potential. We are pretty excited. Fans seem excited. It really feels good that we could make it back”, he said referring to the town of Stockton for the pre-season and season opener.
Last Sunday afternoon, the Thunder hosted a fan fest. Fans were given an opportunity to obtain autographs, ask personal questions and see a demonstration of shooting and skating by players. To the fan’s cheering, Coach Thomas even dropped gloves with the leading penalty minute holder of the Thunder, Garet Hunt in a boxing demonstration. It was all in fun, but the fans really seemed to enjoy it.
Only time will tell how this new group of guys meshes together, whether they have any chemistry on the ice. The Thunder has seen post season play consistently since their inaugural season. Under Thomas’ charge, they lost to Alaska in the second round last season, following a sweep of Colorado 3-0 in the first round.
Contact the writer at Shellie.Lima@prohockeynews.com
Contact the photographer at Jack.Lima@prohockeynews.com