The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – Mike Lalonde has a way of being a part of his team’s historical moments.
He played his first collegiate hockey game at Michigan State in front of the biggest hockey crowd in history. As a pro, he scored the first goal for the Stockton Thunder at its new downtown arena. Now he’s going to become the team’s inaugural all-star and its first poster boy.
The Thunder plays host to the Utah Grizzlies at 7:30 Friday, and it will be the first home game since Lalonde was named to the ECHL National Conference All-Star team last weekend. He will represent the Thunder at the ECHL All-Star Game on Jan. 24 in Fresno.
Friday, every fan 12 and under will get a poster of Lalonde, the rookie forward who leads the team with 14 goals. The decision to give away the poster was made weeks before the all-star selections were announced, but it’s a nice coincidence for Lalonde, who said his immediate concern is trying to help Stockton break its eight-game winless streak.
“It’s an honor to be an all-star, and it’s funny how it worked out with the poster,” Lalonde said. “I’ve already had some great experiences in this game. I just hope we can go in and get a win for our team and the fans.”
The fans learned Lalonde’s name when he scored the first goal at the arena less than eight minutes into the first game there Dec. 10, which was the last time the Thunder (5-15-4) won a game. There were 10,117 fans at the home opener, but Lalonde played in front of a much larger crowd in the first game of his freshman season at Michigan State in 2001.
He participated in the famed “Cold War” against Michigan at an ice rink set up in Spartan Stadium. The two bitter rivals skated to a 3-3 tie in front of a crowd of 74,554, the largest crowd to witness a hockey game.
“It was just an unbelievable experience,” Lalonde said. “I know it was special for everyone who played in it, and I remember how intense it was. It’s not a surprise it ended in a tie. It was quite a way to start your college career.”
Lalonde had 40 points in 42 games as a junior and graduated from Michigan State in 2005. He played five games with the Las Vegas Wranglers at the end of last season, and Thunder coach Chris Cichocki had him on his list when he was looking for scorers.
“Mike’s a good skater with quick hands, and he’s one of those guys who has the natural ability to be in position to score,” Cichocki said. “One of his main strengths is following his own shot. He’s great at being in position to get the rebound and put it in the net.”
The ECHL All-Star Game traditionally features players who are considered NHL and AHL prospects, and his teammates say Lalonde qualifies.
“I think he’s a great choice, and we all congratulate him,” defenseman Geno Parrish said. “I think he’s got a great future in the game. You can call him a rookie, but he played NCAA Division I hockey at a high level, and that matters.”
Lalonde, 25, is on pace for a 40-goal season, which Cichocki called “exceptional for a rookie.” His play has been good enough to make him the Thunder’s first all-star, and he plans to enjoy the experience.
“I understand I’ll be the first one from this team, and that does make it special,” Lalonde said. “I’m just thrilled to get picked.”