Stockton Thunder at Fresno Falcons
(0-0-0, 0 pts) (1-0-0, 2 pts)
2004-05 vs. Stockton: DNP
Fresno follows-up last night’s 2-1 season opening victory against the Victoria Salmon Kings with a match tonight against a brand new Highway 99 rival, the Stockton Thunder. Stockton plays its first game in team history tonight after the franchise relocated to California from Atlantic City, where they played for the last four seasons as the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies. The season series between the two clubs should blossom into a heated rivalry for several reasons. Most obvious, of course, is geography. But the Falcons also play the Thunder more than any other opponent this season with 10 clashes scheduled, and in a fine twist of ECHL irony, Fresno head coach and general manager Matt Thomas was the head coach for the Bullies last season and their assistant coach for the two seasons prior to that. In fact, the Falcons have many more players that suited up for Atlantic City last year with eight, compared to just two former Bullies that made the transition to Stockton.
The Falcons hit the ground running last night with a powerful first period in which they out-shot the Salmon Kings, 15-4, but were only able to take a 1-0 lead to the dressing room following the team’s first goal of the season by Derek Krestanovich. Fraser Clair broke a 1-1 tie when he scored the eventual game-winner late in the second period, but the rest of the evening turned into an evenly pitched battle, with Fresno relying upon a strong penalty kill and gritty goaltending from Brett Jaeger to hang on to their slim one-goal advantage for the win. The club plays its first road game next Friday at Long Beach before returning to Save Mart Center next Saturday and Sunday for a pair of games against the Idaho Steelheads.
The Falcons return six players from last year’s team, which despite missing the post-season, finished with the second highest point total in the organization’s 10-year professional history. Captain Matt O’Dette (#2) leads the way on defense, followed by two second-year Falcons, d-man Dustin VanBallegooie (#5) and center Derek Krestanovich (#11). Left wing Brett Hammond (#22) returns for his first full professional season after playing seven games in a Fresno sweater at the end of last season. Goaltender Brett Jaeger (#34) looks to build upon a record-setting performance last year, and right wing John Wroblewski (#23) is back for his third campaign in Fresno as the longest continuously tenured Falcon.
ATLANTIC CITY WEST:
Eight players on the Falcons’ opening day roster traveled west from Atlantic City to join head coach Matt Thomas in Fresno. Those that began 2004-05 as Boardwalk Bullies include left wing Brad Both (#9), right wing Fraser Clair (#39), left wing Luke Curtin (#72), defenseman Matt Deschamps (#7), left wing Rob McFeeters (#18), and left wing Kelsey Muench (#15). Center Shawn Mather (#19) and right wing J.F. Plourde (#17) were acquired by Thomas late in the season right around the ECHL’s trade deadline.
After each spending the last two seasons playing elsewhere, Both and Cory Murphy have returned to Fresno. Both players previously played for the Falcons for three seasons from 2000-2003 and were integral parts of the team’s back-to-back trips to the West Coast Hockey League’s Taylor Cup Finals in 2001-02 and 2002-03. Both holds the club’s single-season penalty minute mark with 438 PIM in 2002-03, and Murphy returns as the organization’s all-time points leader among defensemen.
McFeeters and Both will begin the season on seven-day injured reserve, while defenseman Ray DiLauro is currently called-up to the Cleveland Barons, Fresno’s American Hockey League affiliate. The Falcons acquired the rights to DiLauro, the ECHL’s reigning Defenseman of the Year, on Tuesday from the Wheeling Nailers in exchange for financial considerations.