By Lori Gilbert
The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – In what best could be described as a scrum in front of the goal, Stockton’s Brock Radunske managed to fight his way clear to poke the puck through for his second goal of the night.
As with Radunske’s first goal, Mathieu Melanson was in on the assist.
It’s something Thunder fans have come to expect of late. The two, along with fellow newcomer Colin Pepperall, are the main reasons Stockton has won seven games in a row and 10 of 11 after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over Fresno at Stockton Arena.
Melanson’s arrival after his Feb. 21 free-agent signing was the first strike of the match that ignited an offense that had been reduced to mere embers.
When the Edmonton Oilers sent Radunske to town on March 3 and Pepperall was pulled out of retirement four days later, the offense suddenly blazed.
Stockton, since the arrival of the three, is a veritable wildfire.
It certainly puts on a wild show, anyway.
This version of the Thunder barely resembles that which slogged through late December, January and February, when goals were at a premium and it went 6-14-4.
This Thunder now crackles with offensive opportunities. It dominated Fresno, a team it heretofore had failed to beat this season.
No longer are Nathan Martz and Mike Lalonde the only reliable players with the puck on their sticks. Each Thunder line seems a threat to score.
“They take the pressure off other people,” Martz said of the trio. “Others are starting to score because they’re relaxed, they don’t feel like they have to.”
Or, because with Lalonde and Brendon Hodge about to return from injuries, the players know ice time, if not a roster spot, is on the line. Players suddenly are doing things on offense they hadn’t done before.
Liam Reddox had an assist on Martz’s goal Tuesday, and coach Chris Cichocki is seeing him make moves he hasn’t seen before.
“Other guys see their success and try to emulate it,” Cichocki said.
Other guys may not have scored four goals in three games, as Melanson did in his first four with the team, scored at least one point in each game, as Pepperall has, or have a 10-game scoring streak, which Radunske owns, but they’re showing more offensive energy than ever before.
Fresno took a 2-1 lead at the end of the first period, but there never was a sense that Stockton would let this one get away. It has too many weapons, starting, of course, with the three newcomers.
“Obviously, Brock, Colin and Mathieu are absolutely amazing right now,” Martz said.
He would know. He carried this team offensively for so long, setting up his closest teammate and roommate, Lalonde, it’s a wonder he’s not bent over from the strain.
Now he has perfect complements on the ice.
“Radunske is a guy who’s going to bring you off your seat with some of moves he makes and the way he can shoot the puck,” Cichocki said.
“Pepperall is a key veteran (whose) composure and poise with the puck is incredible. And Melanson’s a guy who’s fiery, who wants to get in front of the net. He takes a licking to get there. He knows he has to get there to score goals, and he does a great job of battling to be there.”
Together, they’ve made the Thunder complete.
The goalkeeping and defense always have been there.
Now, however, the Thunder can turn those great efforts into wins.