Despite playing with a lineup that included only four defensemen, the Stockton Thunder managed to salvage a point on Saturday night (Dec. 29).
The Thunder settled for the single point as the Las Vegas Wranglers rallied from behind to claim a 3-2 overtime victory in front of a crowd of 6,431 at Stockton Arena.
“I thought it was a real good point by us,” Thunder Coach Matt Thomas said. “Our guys really competed hard. I was proud of them, considering.”
The Thunder played so short on defense partly because Teigan Zahn was suspended before the game by the ECHL for an elbow he threw during a Friday game at Bakersfield. Also, defensemen Ryan Constant and Kevin Noble are out of action because of injuries. The ECHL is expected to announce the length of Zahn’s suspension before Stockton’s next game, which is scheduled for Monday.
Stockton nearly won despite the thin defense corps, but the Thunder (17-9-7) couldn’t hold a 2-1 lead in the third period. The Wranglers (13-12-4) forced the game to overtime thanks to a goal by Sean Wiles with slightly less than eight minutes remaining in regulation time, and they won it when Adam Hughesman scored with 1:04 left in overtime. Mike Madill was the other goal-scorer for Las Vegas, and the Thunder got goals from Philippe Cornet and Yannick Riendeau.
Cornet, who was re-assigned to Stockton along with Ryan Martindale from the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League before the game, said he had never played in a game in which his team dressed only four defensemen.
“It’s hard because you play four forwards on (almost) every line, so you’ve got to be more responsible defensively,” said Cornet, who was Stockton’s second-leading scorer when he was promoted to Oklahoma City on Nov. 22. “I think we actually did a good job. I think getting a point was positive. We’re always going for a win, but we’ll take the point.”
Cornet gave the Thunder a 1-0 lead when he scored off assists from Riendeau and Toni Rajala barely more than three minutes after the opening faceoff. The Thunder nursed the narrow lead into the first intermission, but Madill created a 1-1 tie by scoring at 15:12 of the second period. Riendeau netted a power-play goal off assists from Eric Hunter and Mike Little with 2:37 left in the middle period to allow the Thunder to carry a 2-1 advantage into the second break.
The Wranglers finished with a 45-30 advantage in shots, but Thunder goalie Cody Reichard made 42 saves before Hughesman delivered the game-winning goal. Las Vegas goalie Joe Fallon recorded 28 saves in earning the victory.
“For the most part, I think the shots were a little misleading,” said Hunter, a forward who spent a good deal of his ice time playing defense. “We kept them to the outside quite a bit. Early on, they had some grade-A chances, but after that I thought we did a heck of a job with being a little bit under-staffed.”
The Thunder will travel to Utah for games on Monday (Dec. 31) and Wednesday (Jan. 2) before returning home to battle the Alaska Aces at Stockton Arena next Friday (Jan. 4).
The box score from Saturday’s game can be viewed here: