By Scott Linesburgh
The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – The Thunder didn’t have much time to take a bow after winning its first playoff series.
The second act begins Friday.
Less than 48 hours after both teams clinched their opening series, the Las Vegas Wranglers will meet the Thunder at 7 p.m. at Stockton Arena in the first game of the best-of-seven Pacific Division finals. It’s an intriguing series, which features an odd schedule and a possible matchup between the Stockton skaters and Las Vegas goalie Glenn Fisher, a former teammate.
The Thunder won Game 7 of its series against the Ontario Reign 5-4 on Wednesday to advance out of the first round for the first time in its four years as a franchise The players still were in the locker room at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario when their thoughts turned to the Wranglers, who beat Bakersfield on Wednesday to clinch.
“Right after the game, everybody was very happy we won the series. But after about 15 minutes, we were asking what was going on between Vegas and Bakersfield,” Stockton forward Ryan Huddy said. “It’s a quick turnaround, so you’re anxious to get going.”
Despite being the lower seed, the Thunder is starting the playoffs at home because the Wranglers have a scheduling conflict at Orleans Arena. The series then moves to Las Vegas on Monday before coming back to Stockton on Thursday and May 2. If necessary, the teams will finish with three games in Las Vegas on May 4-6.
“The only thing you worry about is racing out to win four,” Thunder coach Matt Thomas said. “The schedule is different, but I don’t think it changes how you coach or play.”
The Thunder and the Wranglers split six games this season. Stockton goalie Parker Van Buskirk, today’s likely starter, signed with the team two weeks ago and will get his first look at Las Vegas.
“They haven’t seen me and I haven’t seen them, but I’ll have to be a quick study,” Van Buskirk said.
While Van Buskirk and the Wranglers will have to get to know each other, that’s not a problem for Fisher.
Like several Thunder players, he is under contract to the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL. Fisher played last season and three games this season with the Thunder. Fisher was at Springfield of the American Hockey League much of the season, but when the Oilers wanted to move him to the ECHL, they already had Andrew Perugini and Bryan Pitton with Stockton and made a deal with Las Vegas.
Las Vegas coach Glen Gulutzan used both Fisher and John DeCaro in the net against Bakersfield, and Fisher won Games 6 and 7 and went 3-1-0 with a 1.51 goals-against average. Fisher was in goal for the Wranglers in Stockton on Feb. 25, losing 3-2.
“I don’t know if ironic is the word, but the first game was kind of weird.” Fisher said. “We both know each other, but to be honest, most times I don’t even know who is coming at me.
“I’m just trying to block the shot.”
Fisher hasn’t been named the Game 1 starter, but he likely will get another chance against the Thunder. Both coaches said they would have liked an extra day or two to prepare for the series, but no one is complaining.
“There might be a little wear and tear on the teams, but you’ll play through anything this time of year,” Thomas said. “The adrenalin takes care of it.”