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Thunder Open Up Military Appreciation Weekend vs. Utah
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Thunder Open Up Military Appreciation Weekend vs. Utah

The Stockton Thunder (29-30-1-6) open up Military Appreciation Weekend tonight against the Utah Grizzlies (36-22-3-5) with puck drop set for 7:30 p.m.

Stockton Arena Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. with the Silver Bullet Bar serving cold Rough & Ready Irish Red to patrons 21-years of age and over starting at 5:30 p.m.

In the final big event of the regular season, the Thunder will be starting the evening by giving these “Attack on All Fronts” posters away to the first 3,500 featuring a soldier, an industrial worker, and agriculture worker along with the Thunder’s Garet Hunt, Matt Bergland, and James Henry.

This poster originally illustrated by Hubert Rogers in 1943 was a Canadian WWII poster used by the Wartime Information Board to help show that home front work was just as valuable as serving in the military.

One of the many people that have served in the US Military that will be on hand tonight will start the game with the ceremonial first puck drop is Dr. Leroy Leal, 97, who served stateside during WWII in the Army Air Corps, ending his career as a major, before returning to his hometown of Tracy where he opened the third ever dentist office in Tracy.

Of course Major Leal will be just one of the many soldiers honored during the two-day event as the entire weekend is filled with recognition to all of those who have or are serving our country as well as tributes to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in defending our freedoms.

The Welcome Home Heroes Foundation Travelling Tribute displays over 6,600 names who have been Killied in Action in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the ongoing Global War on Terrorism. The moving tribute will be stretched across the fan deck for those who wish to pay their respects to these brave men and women.

A portion of proceeds from ticket sales for the event along with a portion of the jersey auctions will be given to Welcome Home Heroes, a nonprofit based in San Joaquin County made up of Gold Star & Blue Star Families and local veterans who assist Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans so that they do not lose homes, create unbearable debt and stress, and provide assistance to those who have suffered injuries resulting from serving the military.

Those jerseys that will be auctioned off during Silent Auctions on Friday and Saturday, along with the postgame live auction after Saturday’s game and online auction are of course inspired by the military, featuring a desert, digital camo and are based off the Thunder’s alternate jersey with the “Thor Head” logo. US flags adorn both shoulders just as they do on service uniforms and feature the patches of the US Air Force, US Army, US Marine Corps, US Navy, and US Coast Guard.

Replica jerseys are available at the fan attic but the only way to get your hands on the authentic jerseys with sewn on patches is through the auctions.

Of course in those jerseys will be a team that is trying to turn it’s luck around as the Thunder have gone winless in their last six. However, the Thunder have shown signs of life in the last three as they outplayed an Ontario Reign team on Saturday, outshooting them 39 to 18, nearly mounted a late third period comeback against an Idaho Steelheads team on Sunday, and fell in overtime to Ontario this past Wednesday after leading by one heading into the third period.

There have been a lot of roster changes as the organization as a whole gears up for the Thunder’s playoff run with Matt Mangene, Jeremy Langlois, Andrew Clark and Riley Wetmore having recently come to or come back to the Thunder.

In his first game in the ECHL this season, Mangene was instrumental on the goal that gave the Thunder the lead as his backcheck forced a turnover just inside the Ontario blueline. A quick stick-lift gave Joey Diamond the chance to scoop the puck up, zip a pass to Ryan Hayes, and the winger out-waited Jussi Olkinuora for the goal.

Langlois, who is on his second ECHL team this season after the Bridgeport Sound Tiger acquired him in an AHL trade, proved to be a tremendous skater and puck handler as it seemed the puck was glued to his stick. He moved the puck well with Clark and Joey Martin on his line but the trio were unable to bury one of their many quality chances.

Wetmore scored in his return, his second career ECHL goal, and once again showed to be a great two-way talent logging a lot of time on the penalty kill.

The Thunder will not have former San Francisco Bulls captain and new Thunder defenseman Scott Langdon as he is not scheduled to arrive in time for the game, but could be in the lineup tomorrow. The same will ring true for Marc Cantin who was recently sent down by the Sound Tigers but is also not expected in the lineup tonight.

With the two added defenseman, Head Coach Rich Kromm was forced to move a player out and that came in the form of defenseman Brice O’Connor who will return to the University of Maine to finish his final classes and graduate with a Bachelors in Business.

With Brad Stebner playing the five games allotted to him in his amateur tryout contract, Coach Kromm inked him to his first ECHL contract as he becomes a full member of the team.

Either way you slice it, the Thunder have retooled ahead of the playoffs with some key additions and look to turn this slide around and build momentum heading into their defense of the Western Conference Champion title.

Tonight’s game will prove to be another difficult test though as the third placed Utah Grizzlies bring their goaltending and toughness into Stockton.

A Utah goaltender has won the ECHL’s Goalie of the Month award the last three months as Aaron Dell won in January and Igor Bobkov picked up back-to-back awards in February and March, marking the first time in ECHL history that the same team has won the award three-straight months.

Bobkov went 6-2-0 in March with a 1.50 goals-against-average and a .950 save percentage. Bobkov and his Grizzlies beat the Thunder in three out of four matchups last month, falling once due to his own delay of game penalty that the Thunder capitalized on.

Also in town is public enemy number-one Danick Paquette, who returns to Stockton after his hits on Nick Tremblay and Mike Keenan left the Thunder players injured in back-to-back games on March 14 and 15.

Paquette caught Tremblay with a hit that the man playing in his first game with the Thunder never saw coming, and has since been out with an upper body injury. Paquette was not penalized on the play and did not receive any further discipline.

The following day Paquette followed through on a hit that sent Keenan to the ice, leaving the defenseman hobbled to the point that he was placed on injured reserve days later. Paquette once again did not receive any penalties or supplemental discipline.

The gritty forward wasn’t just the thorn in the side of the Thunder physically, but also was a threat scoring goals as he tallied in three of the four games against the Thunder and is second on the Grizzlies in goals with 20 and points with 45.

Leading the way for the Utah Grizzlies is David Vallorani with 53 points on the season, but Vallorani also leads his team in points against the Thunder with 8 goals and 8 assists in 10 games against Stockton. Not far off that pace is the Thunder’s own Hayes who has 6 goals and 5 assists in just 6 games against the Grizzlies.

While Brian Foster has the better record against the Grizzlies, going 4-1-0-0 against the team, Parker Milner has the stats as his 2-2-0-1 record is backed by his 1.98 goals-against-average and .928 save percentage.

The Thunder open up a stretch of three-games in three days tonight, taking on Utah at Stockton Arena again tomorrow and then heading down the I-5 for a Sunday afternoon game against Ontario. The Thunder hit the road again midweek to take on the Reign on Wednesday and then the Bakersfield Condors on Friday to finish off the road portion of the regular season.

The final regular season game for the Thunder is a home game against the Las Vegas Wranglers in just the second meeting between the teams this season. That game is scheduled to kick off at 7:30 with the first 1,500 fans receiving white rally towels as they enter the building.

*Note to fans: In these two games only, Matt Mangene will be wearing #51 before returning to #14. Brad Stebner will be wearing #12 in these games before returning to #2.
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