Worcester pro hockey is full of funny and odd events, everything from a bat flying across the ice during an IceCats game against Springfield spawning a huge come from behind win to enforcer and fan favorite Jimmy Bonneau donning goaltending equipment and sitting rinkside backing up J.P. Anderson against Portland four years ago last Monday.
But today marks the tenth anniversary of one of the oddest moments ever in Worcester pro hockey history. Just to set the story, let’s take a look back at the events of Friday, January 23, 2009 when the Worcester Sharks took on the Springfield Falcons at the MassMutual Center.
It was a rough and tumble opening period, with referee Zac Wiebe calling 42 minutes in penalties in that first stanza. Springfield’s Guillaume Lefebvre picked up 17 of those when he instigated a fight with defenseman Mike Moore at 6:13. Soon after center Andrew Desjardins and Falcons defenseman Theo Peckham had a slight disagreement that sent them both to the box with roughing minors.
After a too many men penalty on the WorSharks–they seemed to get a lot of those over the years–Brad Staubitz had his own issues with Peckham as they both went to the box with matching roughing minors as the sides skated four on four at 18:32.
At 19:08 Jamie McGinn and Mike Gabinet got into it, with Gabinet getting the extra roughing minor. That gave the WorSharks a four on three power play. At 19:55 Jake Taylor took a high sticking minor, and that’s where the fun, such as it was, begins.
With the face-off in the Springfield zone to the right of Falcons goaltender Devan Dubnyk and 4.5 seconds remaining in the period Worcester head coach Roy Sommer decided to pull goaltender Thomas Greiss for an extra attacker to skate five on three for the remainder of the period.
“I remember Roy pulling Greiss and everyone in the press box just looking over at me with confused looks on their faces,” then WorSharks broadcaster and now Railers Vice President of Marketing and Communications Eric Lindquist recounted recently. “No one could figure out what Roy was doing”.
For what happens next, as if you couldn’t guess, we go to longtime Springfield Falcons voice Mike Kelley, and one of the oddest moments in WorSharks history…
Reached by email earlier this week Kelly, now the Director of Sales & Rinkside Reporter for the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, remembered the game and the rivalry between the WorSharks and Falcons. “There we’re a lot of entertaining games between Springfield and Worcester back then. It was the battle of Massachusetts. I remember that goal vividly, because I had never seen it happen before that early in a game. Also, it’s the only goal I remember Mathieu Roy scoring. He was known more for his defensive prowess. I can’t believe that was a decade ago. Time sure flies!”
Now it’s not just that it happened, it was Sommer’s comments after the game to Telegram and Gazette reporter Bill Ballou that really makes this an odd moment.
“I’ve done that 30 times in my coaching career,” Sommer told Ballou. “I’ve even timed it. With three seconds or less, you can’t win the draw and hit the open net. Can’t be done. Four seconds is stretching it.”
The goal officially reads “19:58 SPR Mathieu Roy (2) ASST: Tyler Spurgeon (10) (EN, SH)”, which means the longest it could have taken for the linesman to drop the puck and for it to cross the goal line 190-feet away from Mathieu Roy is 3.4 seconds.
So more than three seconds and less than the “stretching it” four seconds. Plus the fact Summer pulled his netminder with 4.5 seconds remaining must have slipped his mind.
Having talked to a couple of players from that 2008-09 squad about the goal years ago I know that in the locker room Sommer took the blame, saying “that’s on me” or something similar as he walked through the dressing room. One player mentioned that by the time the second period started the team wanted to get that game for Roy, even if it was mostly just to be able to make fun of him about it.
They did just that, with Cory Larose scoring an extra attacker goal with under a minute remaining in regulation, and Ryan Vesce getting his fourth overtime goal of that season just 20 seconds into the extra session for the 4-3 WorSharks win.
Which makes it an even better story.