The Worcester Railers and Adirondack Thunder began the unofficial second half of the ECHL season Friday night at the Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, New York with the first of a home and home match-up between the North Division rivals.
The Railers got on the board first at 10:28 of the opening period on a nice play by Barry Almeida, who ended up not getting a point on the play. His steal of the puck along the left wing boards and pass to Ryan Hitchcock got the play moving. Hitchcock found Tyler Barnes in front, but Adirondack goaltender Evan Cormier flashed out the left pad to block the shot. The rebound went right up the slot where the onrushing Tommy Panico fired it back on net and in.
Worcester made it a 2-0 lead at 5:43 of the second period when another defenseman decided to head to the net. It started with Ivan Kosorenkov bringing the puck into the Thunder zone on the right side where he was stopped by the defense. His pass toward the center was gathered by Conner Doherty, who skated around Adirondack forward James Henry like Henry was a traffic cone. On his way to the net Doherty found Josh Holmstrom all alone at the bottom of left wing circle, and Holmstrom’s one timer found the high corner.
Hitchcock made it 3-0 Railers when he followed his own shot and beat Cormier to the blocker side at 10:18. It was Matt Schmalz who set up Hitchcock’s first bid when he went deep in the right wing side and, seeing his path blocked, spun around to fire a forehand pass to the onrushing Hitchcock. Cormier made the original save but left a juicy rebound in front that the speedy Hitchcock got to. Tommy Kelley had the secondary assist.
After a clean first forty minutes that saw just two minors called the final twenty saw referee Alex Garon make several questionable calls that would be reminiscent of AHL referee Terry Koharski. Those calls allowed the Thunder to get back into the game.
The first came at 5:51 of the third when Garon whistled Schmalz for boarding. Now you can make a legitimate case that it was a good call, but when Thunder forward Brian Ward went after Schmalz for the hit Garon assessed both unsportsmanlike conduct minors despite Schmalz not engaging at all with Ward and just skating to the penalty box.
That gave Adirondack a man advantage that turned to a five on three power play when Ryan MacKinnon was called for tripping on what was pretty obviously a dive. Jake Linhart would score on that power play to make it 3-1 Worcester.
At 9:48 of the period Thunder defenseman Blake Thompson tackled MacKinnon and began throwing punches. Both received unsportsmanlike conduct minors despite Thompson being the clear aggressor. Conor Riley then cut the Railers lead to 3-2 at 11:19 while the teams skated four on four on a play that was clearly knocked in with a high stick.
Unlike at the DCU Center there is no video review at the Cool Insuring Arena this season.
Referee Garon’s final blunder actually has an impact on Saturday’s rematch between the two clubs. With 4:44 remaining in the game Adirondack defenseman Michael Sdao jumped Schmalz in a very one-sided battle. Sdao should have been assessed an instigator minor for starting the fight, which because it was in the last five minutes of the game would have resulted in an automatic one game suspension for the blueliner. Instead it was just matching fighting majors.
Through it all Railers goaltender Evan Buitenhuis played very well, and made the remaining one goal lead stand up with some nice saves as time was winding down, and while you don’t hear the phrase “highlight empty net goal” very often, Almeida had one to seal the deal at 19:10.
Almeida had the puck on the right wing side but was forced wide by Desmond Bergin as the two went to the boards behind the Thunder net. As Bergin attempted to muscle Almeida off the puck Almeida was able to tap the puck through the legs of both Cullen Bradshaw and Linhart. He the wheeled away from Bergin, collected the puck, and skated to the front of the net backhanding it in for the 4-2 final.
There was some pushing and shoving at the final horn, so fans will absolutely want to catch the rematch Saturday night at the DCU Center. Puck drop is 7pm.
Scratches for the Railers were Malcolm Gould (14-day IR/lower), Woodie Hudson, Kyle McKenzie (14-day IR/upper), Tyler Mueller (Day to day/upper), and Alex Vanier (Day to day/lower). Mitch Gillam, fresh off his ECHL All-Star game winning sudden death shootout save and an eleven hour car ride back to Worcester from Detroit after a couple canceled flights, was the backup goaltender. While Gillam was traveling back to the city the Railers re-signed Rob Lemelin to be a practice goaltender, which caused some excitement from others as if some huge story was unfolding. It was fairly obvious to most it was hardly worth mentioning on social media.
Earlier this week Josh Holmstrom was loaned back to Worcester, and on Friday the Railers announced they had traded Nick Roberto to the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. We’ll say Roberto was pointless in his one game with Worcester, which you can interpret any way you’d like.
With the Railers down to five healthy defenseman forward Bo Brauer took shifts on the blueline and was paired with rookie David Quenneville. Brauer looked OK out there but obviously didn’t see many shifts in the third period. His being in the rotation early on helped keep the defenders rested, which in the first of a three-in-three weekend is a huge thing.
It’s the first game of the week, so it’s time to again mention the Railers fans Facebook group where “Railers Player of the Week” voting takes place, and despite almost forgetting to make the poll this week Conner Doherty still managed to rack up an impressive number of votes despite not hitting the scoresheet. His nomination was for his 40 or so minutes of play on Saturday, and the fans in the group agreed that was worthy of winning. Ryan MacKinnon and Barry Almeida were the other two nominees.
The ECHL announced Thursday that Newfoundland forward Brady Ferguson was suspended four games for his illegal head contact match penalty in Saturday’s game. As expected, there was no additional discipline for Railers captain Mike Cornell. Based on the video the penalties received by Cornell were incorrectly assessed, so it’s possible–although unlikely, that his game misconduct was rescinded.
Friday marked the ECHL’s jersey reversal date. For the first part of the season home teams general wore dark jerseys and the visitors their white jerseys. Now it’s white at home and dark on the road. Teams are allowed to work it out between themselves for specialty jerseys and the like, so there will still be games where Worcester wears white on the road and their darks or orange third jerseys at home.
On this date in Worcester hockey history…in 2004 defenseman Jon Colman had a goal and an assist in the IceCats 4-2 win over Providence. Tom Koivisto added two assists in the game. Current Maine Mariners goaltender Hannu Toivonen had the loss for the P_Bruins…in 2013 Tommy Grant’s unassisted shorthanded tally, his only goal for the WorSharks, helped lead Worcester over the Springfield Falcons 3-1.
This past week saw two odd moments in Worcester pro hockey history. Monday was the fourth anniversary of enforcer and fan favorite Jimmy Bonneau donning the goaltender gear to backup J.P. Anderson after Troy Grosenick took ill in Portland, and Wednesday was the tenth anniversary of Roy Sommer pulling netminder Thomas Griess for an extra attacker in the first period. For those that missed it we have a post about it, including video of what happened.
The three stars of the game were
1. WOR – 27 Ryan Hitchcock
2. ADK – 91 Mike Szmatula
3. WOR – 12 Josh Holmstrom
The 210Sports Player of the Game is Barry Almeida.
Even Strength Lines
Almeida / Hitchcock / Barnes
Sorkin / Holmstrom / Kosorenkov
Willick / Kelley / Schmalz
Doherty / Cornell
Panico / MacKinnon
Brauer / Quenneville
Worcester 1 2 1 – 4
Adirondack 0 0 2 – 2
1st Period-1, Worcester, Panico 2 (Barnes, Hitchcock), 10:28. Penalties-Smith Adk (high-sticking), 14:16.
2nd Period-2, Worcester, Holmstrom 9 (Doherty, Kosorenkov), 5:43. 3, Worcester, Hitchcock 3 (Schmalz, Kelley), 10:18. Penalties-Holmstrom Wor (tripping), 11:38.
3rd Period-4, Adirondack, Linhart 4 (Szmatula, Edwardh), 7:25 (PP). 5, Adirondack, Riley 15 (Szmatula, Cleland), 11:19. 6, Worcester, Almeida 11 19:10 (EN). Penalties-Lough Adk (tripping), 3:40; Schmalz Wor (unsportsmanlike conduct, boarding), 5:51; Ward Adk (unsportsmanlike conduct), 5:51; MacKinnon Wor (tripping), 7:08; MacKinnon Wor (unsportsmanlike conduct), 9:48; Thompson Adk (unsportsmanlike conduct), 9:48; Schmalz Wor (fighting – major), 15:16; Sdao Adk (fighting – major), 15:16.
Shots on Goal-Worcester 11-14-10-35. Adirondack 9-10-7-26.
Power Play Opportunities-Worcester 0 / 2; Adirondack 1 / 3.
Goalies-Worcester, Buitenhuis 7-7-2-1 (26 shots-24 saves). Adirondack, Cormier 0-1-0-0 (34 shots-31 saves).
Referees-Alex Garon (9).
Linesmen-Guillaume Brunelle (73), Matt Wyld (56).