The Worcester Railers took on the Norfolk Admirals Saturday night at the DCU Center in the first ECHL match-up between two cities that have met several times over the years in the AHL as the Railers looked to keep pace in the ECHL’s North Division playoff chance.
It was already going to be an uphill battle when word came out during the morning that defensemen Mike Cornell and Ryan MacKinnon had been recalled to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and forward Nick Sorkin has been signed to a PTO by the Binghamton Devils. That hill could have turned into Mount Everest early on in the contest after what looked like an innocuous first period play saw Worcester netminder Evan Buitenhuis down and stretching his left leg. Trainer Rob Tagle came out to talk to Buitenhuis, but the goaltender stayed in the game until the next whistle, when he skated off. Blake Wojtala skated out to the crease for his first pro appearance at 3:01.
It could not have gone much better.
Wojtala held the fort down in the Worcester end while the Railers exploded for six goals against Admirals netminder Ty Reichenbach and, had there been just a handful of ticks fewer on the scoreboard near the end of the game, could have been launched himself into Worcester hockey history by getting into a fight.
Despite now having three players who had never played in a pro game before in the lineup the Railers ended the first 20 minutes with a 2-0 lead after Tommy Kelley connected on a 45-foot wrist shot at 5:36, and Bo Brauer lit the lamp with a wrist shot of his own from the right side at 6:17. Matty Gaudreau had the helper on Kelley’s goal while Ryan Hitchcock and Barry Almeida assisted on Brauer’s.
Hitchcock would give Worcester a 3-0 lead on a nice two on one play with Tyler Barnes, with Almeida picking up another assist, on the goal at 343 of the second.
The Railers made their only real mistake of the game while on the power play when a turnover in the neutral zone led to a Domenic Alberga shorthanded goal. But that was all that would get by Wojtala, and in the third period Almeida gave Worcester their three goal lead back with a goal at 6:41, with assists going to Barnes and Connor Doherty.
At 10:39 the seeds of what exploded into a huge late third period incident were sown when Norfolk defenseman Daniel Maggio sucker punched Ross Olsson, who was playing in his first professional game. With referee Jarred Mitrano leaving the game due to injury earlier in the period linesmen Kyle Richetelle and Shane Kanaly assessed no additional penalty beyond fighting to Maggio. That would not be the last mistake the pair would make.
A highlight goal by Hitchcock, who skated through the what seemed like the entire Norfolk team on his way to the net, made it 5-1 Worcester at 16:15. Rob Powers and Tyler Mueller had the assist on the play. Ninety-four seconds later Olsson and Kelley played some give and go in the Admirals end, with Olsson getting his first pro marker at 17:49.
With time winding down in the game Olsson threw a clean, hard hit on Maggio at the Norfolk blue line. The defenseman got up slowly, never taking his eyes off Olsson. He then skated over to Olsson in front of the Admirals net and took Olsson to the ice, sucker punching him once again. This time all ten skaters joined the scrum, with Norfolk goaltender Reichenbach challenging Wojtala to a fight. With no back-up and the score 6-1 Wojtala declined as Reichenbach shoved the rookie netminder continuously.
Without even looking at the highlights of the incident it’s obvious linesmen Richetelle and Kanaly got many penalties incorrect, including not giving the Railers a three-minute major power play on the board. One has to think the incident will be reviewed by the ECHL, although by posting time the ECHL has not issued word of a suspension for Maggio.
Worcester will finish their weekend with tilt against the South Carolina Stingrays at the DCU center, with a 3pm puck drop scheduled.
Scratches for the Railers were Kyle McKenzie (Out for season/shoulder), Tommy Panico (Out for season/hand), Matt Schmalz (14-day IR/upper), Alex Vainer (14-day IR/upper). With Mitch Gillam being recalled to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers Blake Wojtala was the back-up goaltender to start the game, entering at 3:01 of the first when Evan Buitenhuis was injured. On Saturday morning the Sound Tigers recalled defensemen Mike Cornell and Ryan MacKinnon. According to CTPost writer Michael Fornabaio on Twitter Parker Wotherspoon didn’t play Friday night (upper body) and Chris Casto was injured sometime during the game. Soon after that news broke the Railers lost another player when Nick Sorkin signed a PTO with the Binghamton Devils. Worcester then signed forward Charlie Michalowski, who played this season for Dartmouth College, to get to 16 skaters.
With this being the first time the Railers and Norfolk Admirals meet this season we’ll take a look at any local connections between the two teams. Goaltender Merrick Madsen spent four season at Harvard, leading the Crimson to the ECAC championship in 2016-17. Forward John Gustafsson spent four years playing for Merrimack College, and Matt McMorrow played for Babson College for four seasons. Brant Sherwood played one year for Plymouth State University before transferring. Former WorSharks forward Chris Crane recently played for Norfolk, but was traded to Toledo at the ECHL deadline this week.
On this day, March 10th, in Worcester hockey history…in 1996 Paul Broten scored at 2:17 of overtime to give the IceCats a 5-4 win at Syracuse. Alex Vasilevski tied the game with 57 seconds remaining in regulation with an extra attacker goal, and Fred Knipscheer had a hat trick for the first three Worcester goals. Jamie Rivers added two assist, and goaltender Mike Buzak chipped in a helper and made 21 saves in the win…in 2000 Sylvain Blouin had two power-play goals and an assist for the IceCats in their 3-3 tie with the Albany River Rats. Cody Rudkowsky stopped 36 shots, including all 15 he faced in the third period and another three in overtime…in 2004 the IceCats for a third period goal from Blake Evans, assisted by Jeff Panzer and Mike Glumac, but it wasn’t enough in their 2-1 OT loss in Hartford. Curtis Sanford made 23 saves…in 2007 the WorSharks got a goal and an assist from both Tom Cavanagh and Graham Mink to defeat the Manchester Monarchs 3-1. Lukas Kaspar had the third gola for Worcester, and Thomas Greiss made 28 saves…in 2010 the WorSharks got two third period goals from T.J. Trevelyan and single strikes from Andrew Desjardins and Danny Groulx to defeat the Hartford Wolf Pack 6-4. Ryan Vesce added a goal and an assist and Steven Zalewski had the remaining Worcester goal. Frank Doyle had 34 saves and an assist in the victory…in 2013 Worcester got two goals from Bracken Kearns and two assist each by Adam Comrie and Freddie Hamilton in their 5-3 win over Portland. James Livingston, Daniil Tarasov, and Marek Viedensky were the other goal scorers for the WorSharks. Harri Sateri made 29 saves.
The three stars of the game were
1. WOR – 31 Blake Wojtala
2. WOR – 27 Ryan Hitchcock
3. WOR – 7 Tyler Barnes
The 210Sports Player of the Game is Barry Almeida.
Even Strength Lines
Almeida / Hitchcock / Barnes
Kelley / Holmstrom / Gaudreau
Turcotte / Willick / Olsson
Mueller / Doherty
Powers / Quenneville
Chukarov / Brauer
Norfolk 0 1 0 – 1
Worcester 2 1 3 – 6
1st Period-1, Worcester, Kelley 4 (Gaudreau), 5:36. 2, Worcester, Brauer 7 (Hitchcock, Almeida), 6:17. Penalties-Harris Jr. Nor (fighting – major), 6:17; Turcotte Wor (fighting – major), 6:17; Olivieri Nor (hooking), 11:03.
2nd Period-3, Worcester, Hitchcock 14 (Barnes, Almeida), 3:43. 4, Norfolk, Alberga 13 (Duffy), 14:07 (SH). Penalties-Doherty Wor (tripping), 7:29; Olivieri Nor (interference), 13:58.
3rd Period-5, Worcester, Almeida 19 (Barnes, Doherty), 6:41. 6, Worcester, Hitchcock 15 (Powers, Mueller), 16:15. 7, Worcester, Olsson 1 (Kelley), 17:49. Penalties-Angeli Nor (tripping), 4:19; Sherwood Nor (fighting – major), 4:19; Quenneville Wor (fighting – major), 4:19; Maggio Nor (fighting – major), 10:39; Olsson Wor (fighting – major), 10:39; Willick Wor (tripping), 13:56; Maggio Nor (fighting – major, game misconduct – aggressor), 19:48; Nogard Nor (misconduct – continuing altercation), 19:48; Reichenbach Nor (leaving the crease), 19:48; Wood Nor (fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 19:48; Brauer Wor (fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 19:48; Olsson Wor (roughing), 19:48; Turcotte Wor (misconduct – unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:48; Wojtala Wor (leaving the crease), 19:48.
Shots on Goal-Norfolk 6-11-12-29. Worcester 9-10-7-26.
Power Play Opportunities-Norfolk 0 / 2; Worcester 0 / 3.
Goalies-Norfolk, Reichenbach 18-18-3-2 (26 shots-20 saves); Brodeur 0-12-0-0 (0 shots-0 saves). Worcester, Buitenhuis 10-9-3-1 (2 shots-2 saves); Wojtala 1-0-0-0 (27 shots-26 saves).
Referees-Jarred Mitrano (14).
Linesmen-Kyle Richetelle (73), Shane Kanaly (39).