Too many spectators were wearing the home team’s uniform when the Stockton Thunder hosted the Ontario Reign in the ECHL season opener for both teams on Friday night (Oct. 12).
“We had a lot of guys watching,” Thunder Coach Matt Thomas said after his team was beaten 2-1 by the Reign in front of a disappointed opening-night crowd of 5,635 at Stockton Arena. “A lot of guys were trying to figure out what was going to happen instead of making things happen.”
As a result, the Thunder mustered just 19 shots on goal, including a paltry four in the third period, in absorbing the defeat.
“It was way too many guys watching and not enough guys getting busy,” Thomas said. “I was pretty upset with that. I liked us at times for sure, (but) you could tell that we didn’t have a lot of chemistry.”
Ontario opened the scoring barely more than two minutes into the game on a power-play goal by Vincent LoVerde, and the Reign carried the 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Thunder responded with a power-play goal by Philippe Cornet not quite three minutes into the second period, but Ontario’s Colton Yellow Horn scored the game’s only even-strength goal about two minutes later to give the Reign the 2-1 lead that stood up through the final horn and made a winner of Ontario goalie J.F. Berube, whose toughest save came when he stoned Cornet on a breakaway with 46.1 seconds left before the second intermission.
“Ontario just played a good, hard game and that was the difference,” Thomas said. “We didn’t fight through it enough, we didn’t work hard enough and we didn’t do things fast enough. But it’s going to come.”
Stockton had a late opportunity to tie the score on a power play after Ontario’s Mario Lamoureux was sent to the penalty box for holding with less than three minutes remaining in the third period, but the Thunder failed to capitalize. Thomas said he considered pulling goalie Tyler Bunz to create a 6-on-4 manpower advantage during the power play, but opted against it.
“I just think with how much time we had, I didn’t think we needed to (pull Bunz for an extra skater),” Thomas said. “It’s just too easy for them to get the empty-netter on a clear. I thought about it, but I thought our power play would step up. It just didn’t happen. They (the Reign) did a good job of killing it.”
The outcome spoiled the professional debut of Bunz, who made 23 saves to keep the game within reach for the Thunder.
“He was good,” Thomas said of Bunz, who was chosen by the Edmonton Oilers in the fifth round of the 2010 National Hockey League entry draft. “You’ve got a guy giving you a shot to win, and the offense doesn’t step up and support him.”
Cornet, an All-Star in the American Hockey League while playing for the Oklahoma City Barons last season, said the Reign did a good job of shutting down the Stockton attack.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Cornet said. “They worked hard. In some aspects of the game, they probably worked harder than we did. They were first on pucks and they were winning battles that we should have won.”
Before the game, the Thunder announced that veteran left wing Garet Hunt has been named the team’s captain for this season and defenseman Ryan Constant and forward Harrison Reed will serve as alternates.
“I think (Hunt) is a guy who stands up and shows up every single night,” Thomas said. “I think he’s the perfect fit for the group we have. He deserves it. He showed that he’s a leader all through training camp. He took a big step last year showing that he could be a leader, and it’s a natural progression in my eyes. He’s the right type of guy to make sure all the guys are ready to play every night.”
Hunt, who was an alternate captain in Stockton last season, holds the franchise record for games played in a Thunder uniform (244 entering the season) and is the sixth captain in the club’s eight-season history in Stockton. Previous Thunder captains were Jason Morgan (last season), Craig Valette (2010-’11 and 2009-’10), Matt O’Dette (2008-’09), Brad Farynuk (2007-’08) and Dean Stork (2005-’06). The team played without a formal captain during the 2006-’07 season.
“Being captain is a great honor,” said Hunt, who is a four-time winner of Stockton’s annual Fan Favorite award because of his fearless style of play and involvement in the community. “The guys who have been captains here in the past are all class acts and good guys. I’ve got to take what I’ve learned from those guys and bring it every night.”
The Thunder and Reign will meet in a rematch on Saturday night at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario (CA).
A box score from Friday’s game can be viewed here: