The Worcester Railers lost their seventh straight game Wednesday night at the DCU Center in a 4-1 contest against the defending ECHL Kelly Cup champion Newfoundland Growlers, but in many ways their season has started over as former WorSharks assistant coach Dave Cunniff returned to the city as the team’s new general manager and head coach.
With just one practice with Cunniff at the helm under the Railers belt and the squad facing one of the ECHL’s top teams it was going to be an uphill climb to get into the win column. What fans really wanted to see was 60 minutes of solid two-way hockey from Worcester, and that’s exactly what the Railers gave them.
As the game went on Cunniff moved up and down the bench with the forwards, writing feverishly on the white board he was carrying to show the players what he was looking for them to do. At nearly every stoppage in play forwards were turning around or leaning into the conversation, trying to take in as much as they could before their next shift.
And that clearly showed on the ice as the game went on as players became more comfortable with what they needed to do.
Trey Bradley gave the Growlers the lead at 13:43 of the first period, and almost 20 minutes later Giorgio Estephan made it 2-0 at 13:18 of the second. Even when Brady Ferguson made it 3-0 at 9:07 of the third the Railers continued to play just as well as Newfoundland.
Matt Schmalz got the Railers on the board at 9:21 on a nice goal where he broke in down the left wing side and threw a backhander that Growlers netminder Maksim Zhukov made the save on. As Schmalz circled around the net the puck came right back to Schmalz, who then beat the down and out Zhukov from a sharp angle.
Evan Neugold dashed any hopes of a comeback by making it 4-1 at 13:12. Jakub Skarek took the loss making 24 saves, with a handful being highlight quality stops.
The two teams will meet again Friday, with a 7pm puck drop.
Scratches for the Railers were Barry Almeida (lower), Anthony Florentino (14 day IR/undisclosed), Kyle McKenzie (day to day/lower), Ross Olsson, Zack Phillips, Tanner Pond (14-day IR/upper), Jack Stander, and Shane Walsh (14 day IR/upper). Evan Buitenhuis was the back-up goaltender. Worcester officially announced the claiming of Phillips off of waivers from Toledo.
With Jamie Russell being relived from his general manager and head coaching duties and Derek Army being let go as assistant coach Railers captain Barry Almeida has, at least for while he’s injured, taken over as assistant coach. Expect Almeida to be added to injured reserve in the next couple of days. His knee injury isn’t a long term thing, but he’ll be out at least a couple weeks. It’s hard to say that it was good timing on an injury, but for Almeida and the Railers, that might be the case.
The three stars of the game were
1. NFL – 21 Joseph Duszak
2. NFL – 30 Maksim Zhukov
3. WOR – 17 Matt Schmalz
The 210Sports Player of the Game was Justin Murray.
Even Strength Lines
Samuels-Thomas / Pierog / Salituro
Thomas / Dudek / Schmalz
Turcotte / Payne / Brauer
Chukarov / Cornell
Murray / MacKinnon
Doherty / Quenneville
Newfoundland 1 1 2 – 4
Worcester 0 0 1 – 1
1st Period-1, Newfoundland, Bradley 3 (Brazeau, Skirving), 13:43. Penalties-Payne Wor (slashing), 2:45; Kapla Nfl (tripping), 8:51.
2nd Period-2, Newfoundland, Estephan 7 (Duszak, Luchuk), 13:18. Penalties-Johnston Nfl (delay of game), 2:39; served by Callin Wor (bench – too many men), 5:45; Murray Wor (interference), 13:48; Turcotte Wor (boarding), 19:27.
3rd Period-3, Newfoundland, Ferguson 9 (Conrad, Duszak), 9:07. 4, Worcester, Schmalz 5 (Thomas, Callin), 9:21. 5, Newfoundland, Neugold 2 (Conrad, Kapla), 13:12. Penalties-Skirving Nfl (holding), 10:44; Murray Wor (holding the stick), 18:57.
Shots on Goal-Newfoundland 10-9-9-28. Worcester 14-8-9-31.
Power Play Opportunities-Newfoundland 0 / 5; Worcester 0 / 3.
Goalies-Newfoundland, Zhukov 6-6-0-0 (31 shots-30 saves). Worcester, Skarek 2-4-1-0 (28 shots-24 saves).
Referees-Casey Terreri (14).
Linesmen-William Kingdon (58), Robert Griffin (53).