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Shakeup in Stockton sees Thomas replace Cichocki

by Brian Compton
Goodbye, Chris Cichocki.

Hello, Matt Thomas.

Just days after the ECHL made history again by seeing a second team fold in the middle of a season, the Stockton Thunder released Cihocki of his coaching duties and replaced him with Thomas, who was left unemployed after the Fresno Falcons closed up shop just three days before Christmas.

Thomas didn't arrive in Stockton by himself. With all of the Falcons' players immediately becoming free agents, defensemen Ken MacAulay, Daryl Marcoux and Matt O'Dette, and forwards Igor Gongalsky and Judd Blackwater all joined the Thunder. Fresno was in first place when the team shut down.

"It's hard to describe all the emotions," Thomas told the Stockton Record. "You're angry. There's anxiety. It's tough on everyone."

Including Cichocki, who had been Stockton's coach since the team arrived on the west coast in 2005. The Thunder were 10-17-4 and losers of five straight at the time the coaching change was made. They won just two of 10 games on home ice.

Overall, Cichocki went 93-121-33 with Stockton, leading the club to two appearances in the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

"The fans here, in my opinion, are the best in the league, and they were let down," Cichocki said. "I did my best. I truly enjoyed every game I stood behind the bench here, and I'm disappointed we didn't win more for them."

Despite their home woes, the Thunder remains atop the ECHL attendance list as close to 7,000 per game. The lack of success at Stockton Arena was a major issue for team president Dan Chapman.

"This is our fourth year of existence, and I felt it was our most important year on the ice to perform at a high level, and we just haven't," Chapman said. "Year One is Year One; it's a big honeymoon. Year Two, we had a reasonably successful season, and Year Three we went back the other direction, with injuries and (reassignments) being a big factor, as they are this year.

"So with the exception of our second year, it's been a bumpy road. We owe it to our fans, we owe it to our organization to do whatever we can to create a winning team on the ice."

Thomas can certainly provide that. The 33-year-old has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success since becoming a head coach in the ECHL in 2005 with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies. In five seasons between Atlantic City and Fresno, Thomas went 179-98-41.

"I think this team has the talent and character to win," said Thomas, who lost his Stockton debut in a 3-2 overtime defeat at Alaska on Wednesday night. "And we're going to help them get there."
All-Star starters announced -- The ECHL announced the starters who will represent both the American and National Conference at the 2009 ECHL All-Star Game, which will take place on Jan. 21 in Reading.

The American starters are: G Kris Mayotte, Johnstown (14-4-1, 2.56 GAA, .914 save pct.); D Jon Landry, Johnstown (31 games, 7-11-18; D Greg Labenski, Dayton (29 games, 5-13-18); F Olivier Latendresse, Cincinnati (23 games, 18-15-33); F Kevin Baker, Florida (27 games, 23-19-42); F Travis Morin, South Carolina (28 games, 9-25-34).

The National starters are: G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, Alaska (14-9-1, 2.46 GAA, .923 save pct.); D Dylan Yeo, Victoria (32 games, 8-20-28); D Matt Shasby, Alaska (30 games, 5-15-20); F Wes Goldie, Victoria (32 games, 27-10-37); F Colin Hemingway, Alaska (30 games, 14-27-41); F Steve Gainey, Idaho (31 games, 11-18-29).

Around the ECHL -- The Cincinnati Cyclones acquired defenseman Mike Salekin from Stockton in exchange for future considerations. The Thunder also dealt rookie defenseman Jim Jorgensen to the Phoenix Roadrunners for future considerations. … The Bakersfield Condors dealt forward Dale Reinhardt to the Ontario Reign for future considerations. The Reign also signed rookie forward Itan Chavira. … Ian Vigier of the South Carolina Stingrays was named the Reebok ECHL Goaltender of the Week after going 3-0-0 with a 2.67 GAA. Vigier, 26, started the season in the Southern Professional Hockey League. … The Wheeling Nailers acquired center Matt Craig from the Utah Grizzlies in exchange for future considerations. … South Carolina rookie Michael Dubuc was named the In Glas Co ECHL Player of the Week. The 20-year-old had six goals and eight points in three games.

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