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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Stockton Thunder Silenced for the Season

The Stockton Thunder's playoff season came to an abrupt end tonight in Game 4 of the ECHL Kelly Cup Quarterfinals against the Utah Grizzlies. The Grizzlies were up 2-1 games leading up to today's game in a best of 5 series.

After the 2010 Kelly Cup run all the way up to the Western Conference Finals-the deepest the Thunder has been into the playoffs so far, most fans probably weren't expecting this game to be the last of the post-season.

Bryan Pitton, who had just flown in to town the day before after being sent down by the Oklahoma City Barons, was the starting goalie in net, but not for long. After giving up 3 goals in the first period, Coach Thomas replaced him with Tyson Sexsmith in the second period. It wouldn't make a difference.

The Thunder didn't look good on the ice. They couldn't settle the puck. They were either slow to make a play, or sporadic with their passing when they had any potential scoring chances around Utah's goalie J.P. Lamoureaux.

The hard-hitting, tough Thunder team that we were used to seeing didn't show up. And if the guys aren't hitting anyone, the games usually don't go very well.

What should have been a momentum-boosting moment for the Thunder turned into one of the low-lights of the night. Near the end of the 2nd period, the Thunder had a 5 on 3 power play advantage over the Grizzlies. Their night long troubles handling the puck led to Utah being able to clear their defensive zone even while short handed two players. The home crowd began to "boo" their home team.

Thunder captain Craig Valette stood on the ice for the second intermission interview with announcer "Jungle Jim" amidst a sea of booing. I don't remember the exact words that Valette said, but I got-and agreed-with the message. Which was basically, the booing isn't helping, what we need now is to stick together as a team. And in frustration he slammed his stick against the glass before heading to the locker room.

The crowd calmed down in the third period and most were trying to cheer the team back to life. But a Utah goal near the beginning of the period put the game even more out of reach. A Utah power play goal near the end of the period was just insult to injury. The Grizzlies shut out the Thunder 5-0 in the Kelly Cup quarterfinals.

As terrible an ending as this was, we should be proud of this year's Stockton Thunder. Several of our players got the opportunity to play in the American Hockey League. They were gracious to the fans. They helped others around the community, volunteered their time, and raised a lot of money and awareness for local charities.

Remember that awesome goalie fight between Tyson Sexsmith and Bakersfield Condors' Josh Tjordman? Sexsmith has won ECHL's "Goaltender of the Week" award twice this season, Bryan Pitton was awarded once.

Left-winger Bretton Cameron and defenseman Steve Vanoosten have each been honored this season as ECHL's "Player of the Week".

Garet Hunt has accumulated 248 penalty minutes over the 2010-11 regular season. He was also voted in the Stockton Thunder Fan Favorite awards as "Unsung Hero" and most popular player.

The other winners of the team awards: Fraser Clair as "Most Valuable Player", Jordan Fulton was "Rookie of the Year", Chris Lawrence with the most offense, and Ryan Constant was the best defensive player.

We've been blessed with having an awesome team to be proud of. Next season will be full of more surprises, game rushes and excitement. Let's keep the good memories of this season going while we await the new.

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