By Scott Linesburgh
The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – Thunder president Dan Chapman is anxious to see what Matt Thomas can do with a full season.
He’ll find out, as he signed the coach to a new contract on Thursday.
Thomas, who led the Thunder to the second round of the playoffs after taking over for Chris Cichocki midway through last season, came to an agreement with the franchise. Terms of the two-year deal were not disclosed.
In December, Thomas succeeded Cichocki, the team’s first coach, inheriting a team with a 10-17-4 record. The Thunder went 22-16-3 with Thomas and beat the Ontario Reign in the first round of the ECHL playoffs before losing in seven games to the Las Vegas Wranglers in the Pacific Division finals. It was the first time the Thunder had advanced to the second round in its four seasons.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing what Matt can do starting from the beginning and building the team,” Chapman said. “It’s tough to take over in the midst of the season, but he did a fine job and took us further than we’ve ever been in the playoffs.
“When you talk to ECHL and pro hockey people and his name comes up, they immediately talk about how he’s one of the best coaches in the ECHL.”
Thomas, 33, is happy to settle into his job with the Thunder after what he called the “craziest” season of his career. His three-plus seasons with the Fresno Falcons came to an abrupt end when the franchise ceased operations for financial reasons. He was hired by Stockton a week later.
Thomas worked on team business during contract negotiations and is preparing for a big day in his personal life. He and his fiance, Andrea Devlin, will be married on July 18 in Toronto. Thomas will return to Stockton during the first week of August.
“Stockton is one of the premier places in the ECHL to coach, and I’m extremely pleased to be here,” Thomas said. “I’m definitely looking forward to having a full year to do things the way I think we can do them.”
Thomas said he will soon address the status of assistant coaches Ryan Mougenel and Tim O’Connell, and has spoken to players on the Thunder’s season-ending roster. Missing from the list is goaltender Parker Van Buskirk, who starred for the team in the playoffs. Van Buskirk is not eligible for the list because he was signed as an emergency goal-tender during the postseason and was not on the regular roster.
The ECHL free-agent signing period begins on July 1.