By Scott Linesburgh
The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – One person’s souvenir is another person’s motivational tool.
Thunder president Dan Chapman had the ceremonial gold shovel in his office for about four years and had not given it any thought in a while. Coach Matt Thomas saw it one day and thought of a fun and so far successful way to reward his players for their effort.
Using the shovel and a gold-painted hard hat, Thomas installed the Golden Digger Award, which is given to a player after each win. The playoff-bound Thunder is unbeaten since he came up with the concept and will finish the regular season with two games against the Las Vegas Wranglers at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at Orleans Arena.
Stockton (32-31-7) will be trying to position itself for the postseason, which begins April 10, and still has a shot at securing home-ice advantage in the first round if it can get the second seed in the Pacific Division. The Thunder, Wranglers (32-31-8) and Bakersfield Condors all have .507 winning percentages, and the Condors host the Pacific Division-winning Ontario Reign today and Saturday.
Thomas said he felt the pressure of chasing a playoff berth was making the players a little tight, so he came up with the award.
“It’s a fun thing to do, and the point is we’re giving it to a guy who goes out there and plays hard,” Thomas said. “It’s such a long year, and you have to remember as much as you want the guys to play hard, you also want to make it fun.”
The hard hat and shovel are only given after wins, and a player has his picture taken with the items and gets to skate around the rink with them during the next practice. Mike Lalonde was the first recipient in Stockton’s 5-3 win against Utah on Mar. 27, and Ryan Huddy currently has the items thanks to his performance in the playoff-clinching victory Mar. 29 against Las Vegas.
“It’s good. It’s a great compliment, and whoever gets it after the game is a guy who worked hard and helped out,” said Huddy, who has team records this season with 35 goals and 73 points.
“The next guy that wears it will be saying the same thing.”
Chapman said he was given the shovel at the groundbreaking ceremony in 2005 for what is now the Lexington Hotel next to Stockton Arena.
“We were talking in my office, and Matt asked me where I got it and if he could borrow it,” Chapman said.
Thomas added the hard hat, which he sprayed with metallic gold paint.
“I think it looks great, and it was nice to be the first guy to get it,” Lalonde said. “It’s a good little stress reliever.”