STOCKTON, Calif. – Six unanswered goals by the San Francisco Bulls (23-34-7, 53 points) spelled doom for the Stockton Thunder (32-25-9, 73 points) in a 7-2 loss in front of 3,201 fans at Stockton Arena on Wednesday.
“I could sit here and pick the game apart,” Thunder head coach Matt Thomas said, “I could say we came out and got a little momentum and we gave all the momentum to them. But in the end we didn’t defend well.”
“I’ll take the blame because I knew it could be an ugly game for us if we weren’t ready to compete defensively,” Thomas continued, “I stressed that, but obviously I didn’t stress it hard enough.”
Forwards Ryan Hayes and Gabriel Levesque accounted for the Thunder goals. San Francisco’s Tommy Grant led the way with a goal and three points, while Taylor Nelson made 38 stops in goal.
Goaltender Tyler Bunz (16-16-4) recorded 15 saves in just over 29 minutes in net for the Thunder.
The Thunder struck early when forward Shawn Weller collected defenseman Shawn Boutin’s pass along the boards in the trapezoid. Weller sent the puck to Hayes at the left circle, where Hayes’ sharp shot beat Nelson glove side, giving the Thunder a 1-0 lead 5:57 into the first period.
However, the Bulls stormed back with two quick goals just 42 seconds apart. Christian Ouellet won the battle on the boards and sent the puck in front of goal to Kory Falite, who beat Bunz at the right post to tie the game at 1-1.
Then, Peter Sivak threaded a pass from behind the goal to Nick Walsh at the crease. Walsh sent the puck to the roof of the net to give the Bulls a 2-1 lead 14:34 into the opening frame.
San Francisco added to its lead 16:20 into the first period, when Sivak beat Bunz with a deke, making the count 3-1.
At the start of four-on-four play, a San Francisco faceoff win in the Thunder zone produced a shot on goal by Mikael Tam. The puck deflected off the back of Tommy Grant, who was streaking to goal, and into the net to increase the Thunder deficit to 4-1 2:57 into the second period.
Just 38 seconds later, Tristan King found Bryan Cameron below the left circle near the end line. Cameron beat Bunz five-hole to make it a 5-1 San Francisco advantage.
At the 7:37 mark, King made it all the way to goal from the blue line by snaking around a pair of Thunder defenders, sliding the puck by Bunz for a 6-1 lead.
Goaltender Matt Cooper was brought into the Stockton net at the 9:04 mark of the second period, making his professional debut in relief of Bunz.
The Thunder took one back 17:05 into the second period. After forward Maxime Boisclair’s shot from the slot was stopped by Nelson, defenseman Mike Little’s effort on the rebound deflected off Nelson’s glove. The puck bounced right to Levesque at the lip of the crease, where he pounced on it, to cut the deficit to 6-2.
Sivak added the final goal 16:11 into the third period, beating Cooper five-hole from the lip of the crease.
Cooper stopped 10 shots in 30:56 of relief. The Thunder outshot the Bulls 40-32.
Tonights game was the shortest outing (29:04) of Tyler Bunz’s ECHL career, having been pulled after 30:45 in a 6-3 loss at San Francisco on Nov. 24. One particular note, a Thunder goaltender has been pulled in only three games this season, all of them against San Francisco.
The Thunder will now head on the road to Southern California for the first half of an away-home series against the Ontario Reign. The puck drops Friday, Mar. 15 at Citizens Business Bank Arena at 7 p.m.
The Bulls return home to prepare to face the Grizzlies on Saturday.