The Stockton Thunder celebrated the arrival of the ECHL All-Star break with a dud.
In the team’s final game before the break, the Thunder suffered a 5-2 loss to the San Francisco Bulls before a crowd of 5,838 at Stockton Arena on Sunday (Jan. 20).
The lopsided loss was uncharacteristic for the Thunder on home ice, where the team owns a record of 12-5-2.
“I think they just outworked us,” said Thunder forward Gabriel Levesque, who scored one of Stockton’s goals and had an assist on the other. “We got out-competed. It’s as simple as that.”
The game was the first of seven in a row the Thunder will play at home during a stand that could go a long way in determining the club’s playoff seeding in the ECHL’s Western Conference. Stockton (21-15-7) enters the All-Star break in fourth place in the conference, four points behind the third-place Idaho Steelheads and six ahead of the fifth-place Colorado Eagles.
“This stretch is so important,” Levesque said. “We know how important it is in this league to win at home, so it’s huge for us. We need to turn the page, forget about this one and get ready for the next six.”
The Bulls (15-20-5) used goals by Ryan Galiardi, Peter Sivak, Sebastien Trudeau, Cody Carlson and Jordan Morrison to escape Stockton with the victory. Matt Bergland joined Levesque as a goal-scorer for the Thunder and agreed with Levesque’s assessment of the significance of the current homestand.
“It’s always important to take advantage of stretches of home games,” Bergland said. “We need to regroup and come back strong.”
The Bulls came out strong on Sunday and never looked back. Galiardi gave the Bulls a 1-0 lead when he scored a power-play goal off assists from Carlson and Sivak slightly more than six and a half minutes after the opening faceoff, and Sivak added an unassisted goal with barely more than a minute left in the first period to allow the Bulls to take a 2-0 advantage into the first intermission. The goal by Sivak marked the sixth consecutive game in which he has scored at least once.
Bergland cut Stockton’s deficit to 2-1 when he netted his sixth goal of the season off assists from Levesque and Matt Ambroz at 8:15 of the second period, but Trudeau and Carlson struck for goals barely more than two minutes apart later in the period to give the Bulls a 4-1 cushion at the second break.
Morrison scored not quite five minutes into the third period to push San Francisco’s lead to 5-1 before Levesque delivered a power-play goal off assists from Mike Little and Ryan Constant with 3:10 remaining to cap the scoring.
“We weren’t very good, and they played really well,” said Thunder Coach Matt Thomas, whose team lost two of three games against the Bulls since Friday. “We have to be better, especially in our own building.”
The Bulls outshot the Thunder 30-26, and Bulls goalie Taylor Nelson recorded 24 saves in earning the victory. Thunder goalie Cody Reichard was credited with 15 saves on 20 shots before being replaced by Jody ‘Neill about six and a half minutes into the third period. O’Neill, who played in a hodge-podge of borrowed equipment because his hasn’t arrived in Stockton since he was signed on Thursday (Jan. 17), made 10 saves and stopped a penalty shot by Alex Tuckerman.
Following the All-Star break, the Thunder will face the Utah Grizzlies in three consecutive games beginning Friday at Stockton Arena. The Thunder will be represented in the All-Star Game on Wednesday night (Jan. 23) in Colorado by rookie forward Justin Maylan.
The box score from Sunday’s game can be viewed here: