By Scott Linesburgh
The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – It can be exhausting to watch the Stockton Thunder.
Even its team president admitted he was worn out, and looked a bit disheveled as he happily left the arena after his team took the long route to tying its ECHL playoff series with the Ontario Reign on Friday.
The Thunder blew a two-goal lead in the final two minutes of regulation by allowing two short-handed goals. Then James Bates (pictured) scored his second goal of the game 2 minutes, 28 seconds into overtime as the Thunder beat Ontario 5-4 at Stockton Arena. The best-of-seven series is tied 2-2, with Game 5 set for 4 p.m. Sunday at the arena.
The series then returns to Ontario for Game 6 on Tuesday and, if necessary, Game 7 on Wednesday.
It was as wild as it sounds, and the crowd of 4,913 looked exhausted as they headed for the exits.
“I know I was spent,” Thunder president Dan Chapman said. “That was wild.”
Thunder coach Matt Thomas said he felt fine.
“No, we’re not tired, we won,” Thomas said. “We gave up two goals we shouldn’t have, but we came out in overtime and really battled and got the win.”
Thomas said he wanted a spark. It worked for most of the game, as David Rohlfs scored two minutes into the game and the Thunder had a 4-2 lead and was starting a power play with 2:13 left in regulation.
Many fans were leaning forward in their seats waiting for the chance to start celebrating, but Ontario wasn’t finished. After Stockton forward Cory Urquhart‘s shot hit the post of an empty net, the Reign pounced on Van Buskirk with goals by Jon Rheault and Bud Holloway in a span of 1:29, with Holloway tying the game with 22.1 seconds left in regulation.
“You don’t want to give up those goals, but we just knew we had to keep it together and go out and score,” said Van Buskirk, who made 29 saves.
The Thunder was aggressive from the beginning of overtime, and Huddy and Mike Lalonde set up Bates for the winner. Bates also scored the team’s third goal.
“We just tried to stay focused and come out hard,” Bates said.
Urquhart tied the game 10:27 into the second when Craig Valette slid a beauty of a pass across the ice to Urquhart, who fired a wrist shot past Ontario goalie Jeff Zatkoff for his fourth goal of the series.
Huddy gave the Thunder the lead at 3-2 with 5:31 left in the second.