By Bob Highfill
The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – Stockton Thunder center Ryan Huddy will do what he has since he was a child.
He will seek counsel from his father, Charlie, who probably has a few points to discuss with him after the Thunder’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Las Vegas Wranglers in Game 4 of their best-of-seven ECHL Pacific Division final series.
The Thunder has the ominous task of needing to win two of three in a building where it hasn’t won this season, Orleans Arena, in order to advance. Game 5 is Monday, Game 6 is Tuesday, and Game 7 is Wednesday, if necessary.
“I try to talk to him after every game,” said Ryan Huddy, whose assist with James Bates on a goal by Brandon Naurato gave Stockton a short-lived 2-1 lead in the third period. “I’ll see if he has any advice for me.”
Perhaps the elder Huddy, who won five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers, will continue with the theme he has preached throughout the Thunder’s postseason run: “It’s a new season and your game has to go to another level,” he said. “The good players elevate their game to be successful.”
On Saturday, the better players were on the Las Vegas bench, a difficult reality to swallow considering the Thunder had a chance to take control of the series at home. The Wranglers outshot Stockton 42-26, and Stockton’s best players didn’t play up to their standards: Cory Urquhart took zero shots, Craig Valette took just one and the Thunder was 0 for 4 on the power play.
The Thunder players will try to regroup in their own way, but at least Ryan has someone in his corner that has been in similar situations numerous times. Charlie was undrafted and spent parts of five seasons in the minors before he got the call from Edmonton, where he teamed with legends Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier to forge one of hockey’s all-time great dynasties. Charlie played in 183 playoff games in an 18-year NHL career.
“He’ll probably have a couple things to help me be a better player,” Ryan said. “We’ll come back Monday. We all believe in that. We’ve played hard all year with them, and with the character we have in this locker room, we know we can do it.
“He never forced me to play,” Ryan said of his father. “He’s always been there for advice.”
Charlie, who has been an assistant coach with the Oilers the past eight seasons, said he keeps his advice strictly to matters that don’t involve Ryan’s coaches or systems. He tries to focus on mental aspects of the game and fundamentals.
“It’s probably a little harder for me because I know the game,” Charlie said.
“I want him to be in the right spots. You never get the coaching out of you when you’re watching.”
Charlie and his wife, Karen, vacation in Las Vegas most every year. This time, their trip coincides with the Thunder’s playoff schedule. They’ll root for their son and his teammates, and hope they have a division championship to celebrate.