By George Alfano
The Stockton Record Correspondent
ONTARIO, Calif. – There was nothing wrong with the Stockton Thunder that six goals couldn’t cure.
With its backup goaltender in the net, the Thunder exploded for five goals in the first two periods and held on to beat the Ontario Reign 6-5 to even up their ECHL Kelly Cup opening-round series Saturday at Citizens Business Bank Arena. The Thunder grabbed home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series with the split in Ontario and plays the next three games at Stockton Arena, beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Stockton opened a 5-1 lead behind goalie Bryan Pitton (pictured), who finished Friday’s 4-3 loss in relief of the injured Andrew Perugini and started Saturday. Ontario scored four times in the third period to make a late run at the Thunder, but couldn’t finish the comeback.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted in Game 1, so we came out with a chip on our shoulder tonight,” Thunder coach Matt Thomas said. “We stuck to the game plan and did what we needed to do.”
Perugini is listed as day-to-day with a leg injury, and the Thunder had to scramble to come up with a backup. Stockton signed Troy Redmann, who last played in the United States Hockey League in the 2006-07 season. It also signed Parker Van Buskirk as a longer-term replacement, if necessary. He went 0-2-0 with the ECHL’s Charlotte Checkers this season.
Stockton wanted to avoid falling into a 2-0 hole, and attacked the Reign from the start. Mike Lalonde opened the scoring on a breakaway at 13:23 of the first period following a turnover by Ontario defenseman Chad Starling.
“I read off Starling and it appeared he was going up the middle,” Lalonde said. “We put some put pressure on Starling and forced the mistake.”
Stockton made it 2-0 just 30 seconds later when defenseman Cleve Kinley scored from the left side about 10 feet inside the blue line.
The Thunder also had a first-period goal from Brandon Naurato, who was playing for the University of Michigan last month before joining Stockton for two regular-season games. Craig Valette scored 28 seconds into the second period, and Ryan Huddy gave the Thunder a 5-1 lead at the end of the period.
“I thought we had a really good game, and we kept the pace going,” said Huddy, who scored a franchise-record 35 goals for the Thunder during the regular season. “We watched films and saw their defensemen were finishing checks, and we did our best to get to the open area.”
With a 5-2 advantage with seven minutes to go, it appeared Stockton had things well under control, but the Reign wouldn’t let the Thunder leave Ontario with the win so easily.
Bud Holloway scored at 13:27 for the Reign, and he notched his third goal of the night two minutes later to narrow Stockton’s margin to 5-4.