Thunder wins intense, feisty playoff opener

Thunder coach Rich Kromm has spoken often in the last few days about “playoff hockey.” It’s different from the regular season, more intense, more physical and the pressure is greater.

The Thunder went out Saturday and showed an example of exactly what its coach was talking about.

The Thunder’s 3-1 playoff win against Ontario in its first round of the ECHL Western Conference series wasn’t perfect, but it was very good. Stockton hit hard and was aggressive, and outplayed Ontario much of the game.

It also received another vital part of playoff hockey — great goaltending. Brian Foster stopped 26 shots, and several were great chances by the Reign. He stopped a 2-on-1 break late in the game, and handled everything other than a 40-foot bomb from Kyle Bigos which sailed through traffic and found the back of the net.

Hard hits. Timely goals. Good goaltending. If Thunder keep playing like this, it will be hard to handle.

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Travel schedule doesn’t make it easier on Thunder

The Thunder play three of four games at home this weekend, but are doing it in the least convenient way possible.

Stockton lost to Idaho 4-2 Wednesday at Stockton Arena, and meets the Steelheads again in Friday in Stockton. But the Thunder has to travel to Ontario on Saturday for a night contest, and back to Stockton to meet the Steelheads again for a 4 p.m. matinee matchup.

That’s crazy. And it doesn’t help that Idaho doesn’t Saturday, so the Steelheads can relax, maybe catch a movie and wait for the Thunder to get back from its all night bus ride.

If Stockton wins 2 of these games, it should be ecstatic.

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Tremblay injured in Thunder’s win

The Thunder won a game but will have to wait for word as to whether it has lost a player for a while.

In Stockton’s 3-2 win on Friday, Nick Tremblay left the gave after taking a hard hit from Utah’s Danick Paquette with 12:46 left in the second period. Riley Wetmore went after Paquette and was called for roughing, but Paquette was not penalized.

Tremblay was taken to local hospital for precautionary reasons but was alert and responsive. He was playing in his first game with the Thunder since being acquired and reassigned to the team from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL.

Paquette would later get into a long and nasty fight with Thunder captain Garet Hunt. While several players tussled behind the Thunder net, Hunt and Paquette broke away and really went at it. It was one of the longest fights I’ve seen in the Thunder’s nine season, and pretty even in the end.

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The Thunder’s big weekend by the numbers

Thunder coach Rich Kromm called this a huge weekend for his team. But what would make it a successful one?

The Thunder plays Utah Friday and Saturday and Las Vegas on Sunday at Stockton Arena. This is a great chance to try to make a move up the playoff seedings, and with less than a month left in the regular season, its certainly time to get moving.

So lets look at this — Stockton can certainly beat Utah, the games are usually tight. The Grizzlies are a good team, but Las Vegas has struggled mightily. The Wranglers have just 15 wins and will only make the playoffs because San Francisco folded.

So there’s six points available this weekend. For Stockton, five points or more is a success, four points is a push and three or less is a missed opportunity.

* The Thunder is holding its sixth annual “Easy Being Green” event today and Saturday. The first 1,000 fans, ages 18 and older, entering the arena receive a free Easy Being Green tote bag. Local businesses and organizations will also be on hand for a “green fair” to help educate fans about eco-friendly products.

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So Long Stagg Stadium

Reaction to the pending demolition of Stagg Memorial Stadium has made some nostalgic for Friday nights watching high school football under the lights and Saturday afternoons and evenings watching the Pacific Tigers play football. The 64-year-old relic will be razed to make room for tennis courts, a soccer field and a field hockey playing suface.

Obviously, the $5 million renovation project means the end of Pacific football,which was discontinued in1995. Two years ago, when the university announced it was closing Stagg Stadium to the public, the Record sports staff produced comprehensive articles and a video in conjunction with the university’s announcement.

The work below goes into the history of the stadium and Pacific’s reasons for closing the structure.

Here are the links:

http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120226/A_NEWS/202260316/0/SEARCH

http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120226/A_NEWS/202260317/0/SEARCH

http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120226/A_NEWS/202260318/0/SEARCH

http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120226/A_MEDIA03/120229923/0/SEARCH

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Thunder defense is The Force at Star Wars Night

Goalie Parker Milner and a determined Stockton Thunder defense put on quite a display In front of a huge, light saber-waving crowd at Stockton Arena.

Milner earned a 1-0 shutout versus Utah, his second of the season. He made a single goal by Greg Miller stand up and got plenty of help from his blue liners, especially alternate captain Ryan Constant, who saved the game with 16 seconds to go.

The Grizzlies pulled goalie Aaron Dell and got exactly what they wanted — the puck loose on one side of the net and Milner tied up on the other side. But Constant quickly jumped in and cleared the puck, basically icing the game.

It was the most significant play during a standout performance by the Thunder D. And it was the first chance Stockton fans had to see 6-foot-4 Islanders prospect Andrey Pedan,who will be a big help as long as he’s here.

About the fans — Star Wars Night drew a season-high 8,702 to Stockton Arena, many dressed up as characters. It gave the rink a goofy, fun vibe, and they were rewarded with a well-played win by the home team.

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A sad goodbye to the ECHL’s Bay Area team

So long, San Francisco Bulls. We hardly know ya.

Which of course, was a big part of the problem. Not enough people visited the Bulls’ well-past-retirement-age antiquated arena to get to know you. That, combined with other financial woes and the failure to get an infusion of cash were the reasons the Bulls ceased operations.

Their six games still scheduled with the Thunder will be reassigned to other teams. Here’s a few observations about the failure of the Bulls:

* The 73-year-old Cow Palace wasn’t a great place for a team when the Sharks played there in the 1990s, and it didn’t get better with age. A new scoreboard didn’t change that.

* Although the Bulls drew just over 2,200 a game, their loyal fans are disappointed. The players who signed with them are now searching for employment. And anytime a team has to close shop in the middle of a season, its a blow to the league.

* It’s troubling that the Bulls final interaction with its fans was to tell them they has until Feb. 28 to ask for a refund for purchased tickets. I’m assuming the Bulls had representatives calling people to sell tickets over the past two years, yet those same fans have to call to get their money back after the franchise didn’t deliver its promised product. That’s bull-you-know-what.

* It’s nice to have teams named after big cities, it looks good. But it doesn’t always work, as San Francisco and Chicago Express have shown in recent years. To be fair, the Cincinnati Cyclones are an example of a big-city team doing fine. But a medium-sized market with a decent venue and a desire for pro sports is still the best bet for success.

* The feeding frenzy to grab the Bulls good players has begun as the Florida Everblades signed defenseman Eriks Sevcenko on Tuesday. They have a few forwards the Thunder should look at, such as Dean Ouellet and Brett Findlay.

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It’s official: Calls upset Thunder coach

Rich Kromm was clearly not happy about the officiating in the third period of the Thunder’s 4-2 loss to San Francisco on Friday.

Was he correct?

To a point. And the problem was more about what wasn’t called than what was.

First, it should be noted that officials can be an easy excuse, and Stockton had plenty of chance to at least tie the game in regulation before San Francisco sealed the deal with a late empty-net goal.  Still, this game was not well officiated.

After JM McNulty’s crew laid off the whistle much of the game, Stockton was called for three quick penalties. The result was two San Francisco power play goals (one a 5-on-3), and the Thunder never caught up.

Frankly, I didn’t have a problem with two of the three penalties. The too many men call was obvious, and a slashing on Nathan Deck was pretty clear. Not as sure about a slash on Garet Hunt, but I didn’t get a great look at it.

But those were the only three penalties of the third period, and that was ridiculous.

There were a few you could have called on SF, and should have. I counted a hold against Thunder defenseman Ryan Constant that gets called in youth leagues, and there was a couple of others.

Who knows if Stockton scores on any of the possible power plays, and inconsistent officiating is something you have to overcome.

It’s not an excuse. But facts are facts, and the officials were not consistent on Friday.

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Different look awaits next Thunder game

Friday’s game will certainly look different at Stockton Arena. But will it play different?

The Thunder and San Francisco Bulls will play on the Stockton Arena ice which is adorned with paintings of more than 800 youngsters, courtesy of the “Kids Take Over Stockton Arena” promotion following Sunday’s 5-1 Stockton win against the Bulls. The ice is literally covered with youth grafitti, and it looks really cool.

But will it affect the players. Stockton practiced on it for the first time on Wednesday, and admitted it was different.

“It took a little getting used to, and at first it was a little tricky to see the puck,” Thunder captain Garet Hunt said. “But you make adjustments, and it was great to do for the kids. It will be the same for both teams.”

Said goalie Brian Foster: “It will be a little different at first. But once we get playing, I don’t think it will be that big of a deal.”

After Friday’s game, the paintings will be cleared from the ice.

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Thunder earns feisty win as kids take over Stockton Arena

Before a bunch of youngsters went out and painted its ice with everything from flowers to turtles, the Thunder finished 2013 with a very good performance.

It beat the S.F. Bulls 5-1 at Stockton Arena, thanks mostly to a four-goal first period and a fine outing by goalie Parker Milner, who got a much-needed win.

The game turned early when Matt Bergland scored and James Henry contributed a shorthanded goal, which was a back breaker for the Bulls. Mike Dalhuisen, Nick Larson and Landon Oslanski also scored, and Milner took care of the rest and had 31 saves.

This was the third out of what amounts to a five-game series between the franchises, and it got pretty nasty on Sunday. There was four fights — Thunder captain Garet Hunt had two — and plenty of shoving and pushing.

Sunday was “Kids Takes Over” Day at the arena, with children taking up various jobs around the arena such as announcing, running the music board, etc. It was a fun event, and at the end of the game they were allowed on the ice to paint it. The Thunder and Bulls will play on the newly decorated ice on Friday.

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    Bob Highfill

    Bob Highfill has worked in The Record's sports department since 1990. He has covered a variety of sports, including high schools, Pacific and professional sports. In 2006, he was named sports editor. Bob is a graduate of Lincoln High and the ... Read Full

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