The Worcester Railers opened their 2019-20 campaign at the DCU Center Saturday night against the Adirondack Thunder and used a Kyle Thomas Gordie Howe hat trick and multi-point nights from fellow newcomers JD Dudek, Jordan Samuels-Thomas, and Nic Pierog to beat their ECHL North Division rivals 5-1.
Thomas became just the second player in Railers franchise history to record the Gordie Howe hat trick when he had the primary assist on Dudek’s third period goal at 5:22 that made it the 5-1 final. Thomas took Samuels-Thomas’s short feed and continued the puck to Dudek racing in down the slot. Dudek then beat Thunder netminder Michael McNiven through the five-hole.
Jeff Kubiak had the franchise’s only other Gordie Howe hat trick on February 3, 2018 vs Brampton.
The Railers came out of the gate flying, out-shooting Adirondack 12-3 in the opening 20 minutes while building a 3-0 lead. Samuels-Thomas had the opening goal of the season when he scored at 4:10 of the first period. The West Hartford, CT native had the puck low in the right wing circle and patiently waited for his teammates to enter the zone as the lines changed behind him. Tanner Pond raced through the slot and took Samuels-Thomas’s nice feed, firing it on net. McNiven made a left pad kick save, but the rebound went right to Samuels-Thomas who had all 24-square feet to shoot at.
Worcester made it 2-0 at 7:57 on a play that will hopefully foreshadow how the Railers see themselves scoring more goals this season. After Conner Doherty’s attempted clear hit Thomas in the backside Doherty reclaimed the puck and threw it across the Worcester zone to Bo Brauer. The forward turned defenseman, having no better play with the puck, skated down the right side into the offensive end and was forced to wheel the net by the Thunder defense. Brauer went almost all the way to the left wing corner before finding Thomas with a nice pass. Thomas then beat McNiven clean to the glove side.
At 11:34 Barry Almeida lit the lamp on a Railers five on three power play when he one-timed a wrist shot past McNiven from the top of the right circle. Pierog sent that pass to Almeida from the left wing circle to earn the primary assist. Dudek also had a helper on the play.
With the goal Barry Almeida moves into 18th place in Worcester hockey history with 114 career points, breaking the tie with Chris Kenady.
Late in the stanza Thomas picked up the Railers’ first fighting major of the campaign when he was slashed a couple times by Adirondack defenseman Blake Thompson. Thomas challenged Thompson, who looked disinterested. Thomas forced the issue by dropping the gloves and then won the one-sided fight.
Just 19 seconds into the second period Ryan Hitchcock made it a four goal lead when he banged home a loose puck from just outside the crease. Matt Schmalz made the original shot from the right side face-off dot, and while McNiven made the save Pierog was there to jar the puck loose. Hitchcock was able to push it home.
Despite the goal the middle twenty minutes wasn’t a great period for Worcester as rookie netminder Jakub Skarek, who was not tested in the least in the opening stanza, had to come up big several time in the second. In just his first pro game Skarek already has a highlight save to his credit, stealing a goal from Adirondack’s Robbie Payne with a diving stick save.
The one goal Skarek did give up, to Ryan Walker at 16:05 of the second that made it 4-1 Worcester, was a result of two Railers turnovers and then a goalscorer’s deflection in front of him.
The Railers are now off until Friday night when the Maine Mariners visit the DCU Center.
Scratches for the Railers were Anthony Florentino (Day to day), Cody Payne, Chris Rygus, and Henrik Samuelson (Day to day). Evan Buitenhuis was the back-up goaltender. While the team didn’t disclose what the injuries to Florentino and Samuelson were they did say that neither injury was thought to be serious and both should be ready soon. Late in the game Ivan Chukarov was hit with a shot in the ankle and struggled to the bench and went down the tunnel to the dressing room. He eventually returned to the bench but didn’t skate another shift.
With defensemen Florentino injured and Rygus a healthy scratch forward Bo Brauer played on the blueline. It’s a fairly safe bet that once the Sound Tigers return from their trip to Charlotte that they’ll be sending a defenseman or two to Worcester. It also doesn’t say much about Rygus’ future with the squad if he was a healthy scratch in place of a forward playing defense.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first AHL season in the city of Worcester the Railers invited a few longtime city hockey representatives to take part in the ceremonial puck drop. IceCats and WorSharks public address announcer George Brown, Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram, and former players Shawn Heaphy and Terry “Mr IceCats” Virtue took to center ice to drop the puck between Railers captain Barry Almeida and Thunder alternate captain Michael Sdao. With usual PA announcer Adam Webster filling in as arena host Brown was pressed into service in the booth making the in-game announcements.
You can now add Railers Public Relations & Social Media Coordinator Cam McGuire to list of “official” radio voices of Worcester hockey, joining longtime play by play man Eric Lindquist and IceCats broadcasters John Wiedeman, Greg Madden, and Mike Thornton, and WorSharks radioman Jamie Smock. The plan is for McGuire to call the Railers home games with Lindquist providing color commentary, and the two switching roles for the road games.
The 8,137 in attendance for a rare Worcester three-fer in patriotic pregame songs, with St. Peter Central Catholic Elementary School singing “God Bless America”, the Assumption School from Millbury singing “America the Beautiful”, and All Saints Academy from Webster finishing with the national anthem.
The three stars of the game were
1. WOR – 24 Kyle Thomas
2. WOR – 35 Jakub Skarek
3. WOR – 37 Jordan Samuels-Thomas
The 210Sports Player of the Game is Nic Pierog.
Even Strength Lines
Hitchcock / Pierog / Thomas
Almeida / Pond / Schmalz
Dudek / Samuels-Thomas / Callin
Murray / Cornell
McKenzie / Chukarov
Doherty / Brauer
Adirondack 0 1 0 – 1
Worcester 3 1 1 – 5
1st Period-1, Worcester, Samuels-Thomas 1 (Pond), 4:10. 2, Worcester, Thomas 1 (Brauer, Doherty), 7:57. 3, Worcester, Almeida 1 (Pierog, Dudek), 11:34 (PP). Penalties-Summers Adk (high-sticking), 2:08; Dudek Wor (slashing), 4:46; Curti Adk (delay of game), 9:57; Riley Adk (tripping), 11:14; Olsson Wor (interference), 13:24; served by Nazarian Adk (bench – too many men), 15:41; Thompson Adk (fighting – major), 17:51; Thomas Wor (fighting – major), 17:51.
2nd Period-4, Worcester, Hitchcock 1 (Pierog, Schmalz), 0:19. 5, Adirondack, Walker 1 (Girard, Salhany), 16:05. Penalties-Doherty Wor (tripping), 5:58; Doherty Wor (hooking), 10:27.
3rd Period-6, Worcester, Dudek 1 (Thomas, Samuels-Thomas), 5:22. Penalties-served by Olsson Wor (bench – too many men), 2:39; Doherty Wor (slashing), 6:33.
Shots on Goal-Adirondack 3-16-6-25. Worcester 13-9-9-31.
Power Play Opportunities-Adirondack 0 / 6; Worcester 1 / 4.
Goalies-Adirondack, McNiven 0-1-0-0 (31 shots-26 saves). Worcester, Skarek 1-0-0-0 (25 shots-24 saves).
Referees-Casey Terreri (14).
Linesmen-Brent Colby (77), Stephen Drain (52).