A re-tooled lineup and a hot power play comprised a winning formula for the Stockton Thunder on Friday night (Jan. 27).
On a night when five players recently added to the roster combined for seven points and the team generated three power-play goals, the Thunder humbled the league-leading Alaska Aces by skating to a 6-3 victory in front of 5,829 appreciative fans at Stockton Arena.
“Having some new bodies around here is a little fresh, and they bring a lot of offense,” said Kevin Baker, who scored two power-play goals for the Thunder. “It’s good. It’s fresh, and it’s a new start for us.”
Leading the list of fresh or returning faces making big contributions for the Thunder were Max Campbell, who had a goal and an assist, and Milan Kytnar, who was credited with two assists. Other recent additions helping out offensively included Matt Reber, who scored a goal, and Chris D’Alvise and Chris Doyle, each of whom had an assist.
Campbell and Reber were obtained by the Thunder through separate trades earlier in the week. Kytnar and D’Alvise were re-assigned to Stockton from teams in the American Hockey League during the week, and Doyle recently was claimed off waivers. Their performances augmented three-point games by Baker, who had an assist to go along with his two goals, and Matt Foy, who was credited with one goal and two assists. Colten Hayes chipped in a goal and an assist, and Ian O’Connor and Jordan Fulton each logged single assists for the Thunder.
Kytnar and D’Alvise aren’t exactly new to Thunder fans as each has previous experience in Stockton. Kytnar, who has played a chunk of this season with the Thunder, rejoined the team after being assigned to Stockton from the Oklahoma City Barons. D’Alvise, a former Stockton player who ranks fourth on the club’s all-time scoring list, was assigned to the Thunder by the Springfield (Mass.) Falcons as part of an injury rehabilitation plan.
Still, they are part of a group of players who weren’t on the Stockton roster as recently as a few days ago, and the presence of all the newcomers has had an immediate effect on the rest of the team. In all, 10 different Stockton players had at least one point in Friday’s victory.
“Any time you add new bodies into the lineup, guys respond to it,” said Thunder Coach Matt Thomas, whose team will battle Alaska again on Saturday and Sunday at Stockton Arena. “I think everybody is excited about the new players. It excites the group to be able to play with new guys like them.”
The energized Thunder (19-18-4) came out of the gate flying and had a 2-0 lead by the first intermission on goals scored only 12 seconds apart by Hayes and Reber. Hayes struck on a power play exactly six minutes into the game, and Reber followed with his goal on the next shift.
A power-play goal by Baker about six and a half minutes into the second period gave the Thunder a 3-0 cushion, but Alaska responded with a power-play goal by Bryan Miller at 8:59 of the period to cut Stockton’s lead to 3-1. Another extra-man goal by Baker at 15:51 allowed the Thunder to take a 4-1 advantage into the second break.
The Aces (31-7-5) again rallied and trailed just 4-2 after Zach Harrison scored early in the third period, but Campbell answered with his goal at 7:42 to give Stockton a 5-2 lead. Alaska again came back on another power-play goal by Miller with 6:22 remaining, but Foy sealed the outcome with an empty-net goal with 1:29 to go, at which point Thomas breathed a sigh of relief.
“When you’re playing a team that’s used to winning, they’re going to find a way,” Thomas said. “I was worried until that (empty-net goal) went in the net.”
San Jose Sharks goaltending prospect Alex Stalock made 24 saves to earn the victory and has won all three of his starts with Stockton. Alaska goalie Adam Courchaine recorded 28 saves in defeat.
Stockton now has scored 25 goals in its past six games and has won four of those outings. The victory over Alaska allowed the Thunder to stay within one point of the fifth-place Idaho Steelheads in the ECHL’s Western Conference.