The Worcester Railers regular season doesn’t start until October 13th, but many fans got their first glimpse at the group of players competing for spots on the 2018-19 roster at the team’s first ever Blue/White intra-squad game held Friday night for season ticket members at Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center.
In a bit of a twist in was announced just prior to game time that radio voice Eric Lindquist was going to coach the white team, called “team Lindy”, and social media maven Tom “Tuesday” Matthews and Community Relations Coordinator Paul Harris were coaching the blue team, dubbed “Team Tuesday & Pablo”.
That fact, and that fact alone, turned what was going to be an event where the score really didn’t matter at all into a game where each goal would be tightly contested and each penalty highly scrutinized as bragging rights for a whole year were suddenly up for grabs.
Or maybe it was still just an intra-squad scrimmage. It was hard to tell.
Two players didn’t take part on the ice, with forward Tommy Kelley joining Matthews and Harris behind the blue bench while defenseman Tommy Panico was behind the team white bench. Both were held out for precautionary reasons as each is dealing with a minor injury. There was no official word on their statuses for next Saturday’s opening night in Reading against the Royals.
I was talking to Head Coach Jamie Russell prior to the game, and we joked that it’s hard in a game like this because you want to see a lot of goals, but not so many that you begin to think your defense is an issue. I’m guessing that the four goals scored in the 20 minute five on five portion was maybe on the “too few” side. All four goals were nice goals, but none of the four goaltenders used in the period were significantly tested otherwise.
In the 5v5 Nick Sorkin (penalty shot) and Mike Cornell scored for Team Lindy, while Barry Almeida and Nick Bligh scored for Team Tuesday & Pablo. Bligh’s goal was announced as #2 Panico, but I’m pretty sure it was #22 Bligh who scored from the scrum of players.
After the ice was resurfaced the teams came back to the ice to exchange power plays. Each team was given two minutes to score with the man advantage, and each squad alternated back-and-forth until each had four opportunities.
It’s an easy guess that Russell was not happy after that portion of the event as no goals were scored by the team with the extra skater in eight attempts, and in the first try for Team Tuesday & Pablo the Railers presumptive top power play line not only didn’t generate any chances they allowed Dylan Willick to score a shorthanded goal.
One goalie did shine in that portion, with West Roxbury’s Ryan Hubbard making several great saves to keep Team Tuesday & Pablo off the board.
They then played three minutes of four-on-four, with Willick getting the only tally for Team Lindy. Both squads were held scoreless in a three minute period of three-on-three.
In the shootout portion, where each team got three attempts, Almeida and Sorkin scored for Tuesday & Pablo while Bligh notched one for Team Lindy to give them the 6-4 final.
While the game was all fun for most people several players were fighting for just a couple of open spots on the roster. As I noted on Twitter Tuesday after watching training camp Russell is going to have his hands full making some of these cuts because no player looked out of place out on the ice.
Even rookie Pat Condon, who usually plays defense but was tossed into the scrimmage at right wing, looked decent playing out of position.
One try-out player who I think has all but secured his spot on the roster is Bligh. He’s bounced around a bit in the ECHL the last couple of seasons and his stats, especially plus/minus, are a little skewed because he’s played for some bad team, but he looked to fit in well with Russell’s style of play.
I’m also thinking the back-up role to Mitch Gillam is likely Evan Buitenhuis’ to lose, although Hubbard may have moved up a notch with his play Friday night.
There’s still some players on the Bridgeport roster that will likely be assigned to Worcester in the not so distant future. The Sound Tigers do have a couple players injured, including Matt Gaudreau, so it may be a short while before the Railers roster is completely set.
Fans should also expect a decent number of transactions this year between Worcester and Bridgeport as once again the Sound Tigers get AHL/ECHL two-way contracted players their mandated number of games in the AHL to qualify for the ECHL playoffs.
For ECHL veteran players, that’s ten games, while non-vets have to play just five. Worcester can exempt two players from that rule, and goaltenders are automatically exempt. Players on AHL only deals, of which the Railers currently have none, are also exempt, as are players on NHL contracts. Currently only defenseman David Quenneville meets that criteria.
The players on the roster bubble will get one more chance to impress Russell and Assistant Head Coach Derek Army Saturday night in an exhibition game against the Maine Mariners in Exeter, New Hampshire. Opening day rosters are due into the ECHL on Wednesday, October 10th at 3pm EDT.
And then the Railers will begin this season’s road to the Kelly Cup.