The Worcester Railers took on the Newfoundland Growlers Friday night at the DCU Center in the first of a pair of games this weekend between the first and last place teams in the ECHL’s North Division, with the Railers missing a couple of big offensive weapons to make the battles even tougher for the hometown team.
Worcester came flying out of the gates taking it to the Growlers, but eventually Newfoundland’s speed and size began to tilt the ice toward the net defended by Railers goaltender Mitch Gillam.
Despite that it was Worcester who got on the board first at 17:46 of the opening period when Ryan Hitchcock carried the puck into the Growlers zone on the left wing side. Hitchcock was checked at the half-boards and lost the puck, but Barry Almeida chased it down in the corner and fired it behind the net to Tyler Barnes. As Hitchcock went to the net Barnes hit him in stride with a nice pass, and Hitchcock fired one under Newfoundland netminder Eamon McAdam for the score.
Unfortunately the Worcester lead would last just 19 seconds. After the next faceoff the puck was deep in the Railers zone where two different players misplayed the puck. As a scrum for the loose puck developed in front of Gillam the puck squirted free right to Marcus Power, and while Gillam made a great effort on the shot it was Power that won that battle.
The teams went through a scoreless second period, and while the shots were even in the stanza once again the play was tilted toward the Railers end. The third period was more of the same, only with the Growlers getting significantly more shots on goal.
Newfoundland would eventually take the lead on a controversial play, one where at the time it looked like Gillam might have been injured on. It all started when the Growlers flipped the puck toward the Railers end trying to lead Griffen Molino into the zone. The play looked offside but linesman Sam Schildkraut, who was not in position along the blue line, signaled it was good. Newcomer Kevin Hart did his best to coral Molino, but the pair slid into Gillam with referee Alexander Ross trailing the play calling for a penalty shot.
After a few moments with Gillam down on the ice with trainer Rob Tagle Gillam decided he was good to go and Tagle went back to the bench as the netminder slowly got up and got ready to face the Molino penalty shot. For the attempt Gillam went for the poke check, but Molino pulled the puck back and slid it past Gillam for a 2-1 Growlers lead at 14:05 of the third.
Railers Head Coach Jamie Russell likes to pull his goaltender early, and he did so again Friday night. The first time it didn’t lead to much offensively, but after a face-off deep in the Worcester zone Gillam once again headed to the bench, only this time the six skaters would get the equalizer.
Ryan MacKinnon began the play with a pass to Tyler Mueller at the high slot. Mueller then passed it along to Almeida near the left wing half boards. McAdam made a kick save with the left pad on Almeida’s shot, but the rebound went right to a charging MacKinnon, who fired it back on net to light the lamp with 37.7 seconds remaining in regulation. Referee Ross went to video review for a reason no one can fathom, but the goal stood.
To overtime the teams went, and right off the opening face-off Gillam had to make a big save when Hudson Elynuik broke in all alone. Gillam being Gillam, he made it look easy. Play was pretty even during the extra session from that point, but the Railers would get the game winner after throwing a couple of 120-foot passes.
Looking for a line change and not wanting to dump the puck into the Growlers zone Barnes did the next best thing; he dumped it into the Worcester zone. Gillam received the tape to tape pass, and after waiting for a few seconds fired the puck right back toward the Worcester bench where Barnes had been standing. Only this time it went right to Matt Schmalz hopping off the bench, and he and Tommy Kelley broke in on a two on one.
After a pass Kelley didn’t get a great shot off but the rebound went right to Schmalz. With Kelley trying to get away from McAdam Schmalz fired it into the net for the 3-2 Railers win.
After watching the replay on the Daktronics video board Newfoundland wanted the goal reviewed. Referee Ross disagreed, and the goal stood. The two teams meet again Saturday night at the DCU Center.
Scratches for the Railers were Malcolm Gould (14-day IR/lower), Kyle McKenzie (14-day IR/upper), Tommy Panico (lower body, as reported by T&G’s Bill Doyle), Nick Roberto, and Yanick Turcotte (suspended, game four of five). Early Friday morning the Bridgeport Sound Tigers assigned Ryan Hitchcock to the Railers, and as one would expect he was in the line-up. On Friday afternoon Worcester signed defenseman Kevin Hart.
With it being the first game of the week we’ll take a look at the results of the “Railers Player of the Week” voting for last week on the Railers fans’ Facebook Group, and in a massive runaway Matt Schmalz is the winner with, as of 3:30pm Friday, over 96% of the vote. The other two nominees were Tommy Kelley and David Quenneville, who both had very good weeks but Schmalz’s three goals and two assists were more than what the other two did combined.
Caught up with Bo Brauer Monday night just before the Worcester Railers Booster Club meeting and let him know about his close brush with Worcester hockey history with his two goals in his first two shots, only to miss on his third shot. “I went high blocker and the goalie made a quick move and just got a piece of it” said Brauer of his bid for three goals in three shots. While Brauer is first since Jack Combs to score on his first two shots for a Worcester team as a mid-season replacement, no Worcester pro has ever scored goals on his first three shots with the team.
With the assist on the overtime goal Mitch Gillam moves up the Worcester pro hockey list for career goaltender points. His three career points ties him for 5th all time with Jamie McLennan, Cody Rudkowsky, and Tyson Sexsmith. Alex Stalock and Brent Johnson are tied for the top spot at seven points each.
On this day in Worcester hockey history…2004 Blake Evans scored the overtime game winner with 14 seconds left in the extra session to give the Worcester IceCats a 2-1 win over the Albany River Rats…2007 Mike Iggulden had a pair of third period goals against Portland to get the WorSharks into overtime against their Atlantic Division rivals. The Pirates would win 3-2 in a seven round shootout with Iggulden scoring twice on the penalty shots…in 2014 the WorSharks and Norfolk Admirals played 60 minutes of scoreless hockey, with Norfolk prevailing 1-0 on a power play goal after Konrad Abeltshauser was sent off for tripping despite not having a stick at the time of the supposed infraction.
The three stars of the game were
1. WOR – 4 Ryan MacKinnon
2. WOR – 17 Matt Schmalz
3. NFL – 17 Griffen Molino
The 210Sports Player of the Game is Mitch Gillam.
Even Strength Lines
Almeida / Hitchcock / Barnes
Brauer / Kelley / Schmalz
Sorkin / Willick / Hudson
Doherty / Quenneville
Mueller / MacKinnon
Vanier / Hart
Newfoundland 1 0 1 0 – 2
Worcester 1 0 1 1 – 3
1st Period-1, Worcester, Hitchcock 2 (Barnes, Almeida), 17:46. 2, Newfoundland, Power 15 (O’Brien), 18:05. Penalties-Hudson Wor (boarding), 8:00; Molino Nfl (slashing), 10:18.
2nd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Estephan Nfl (hooking), 5:00; Pardy Nfl (delay of game), 5:28; Kelley Wor (hooking), 19:20.
3rd Period-3, Newfoundland, Molino 3 14:05 (PS). 4, Worcester, MacKinnon 3 (Almeida, Mueller), 19:22. Penalties-Quenneville Wor (tripping), 11:33.
OT Period-5, Worcester, Schmalz 8 (Kelley, Gillam), 3:54. Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal-Newfoundland 11-7-13-2-33. Worcester 5-7-6-2-20.
Power Play Opportunities-Newfoundland 0 / 3; Worcester 0 / 3.
Goalies-Newfoundland, McAdam 1-1-1-0 (20 shots-17 saves). Worcester, Gillam 11-9-0-1 (33 shots-31 saves).
Referees-Alexander Ross (11).
Linesmen-Nathan Frechette (30), Sam Schildkraut (86).