The Worcester Railers took on the Newfoundland Growlers for the second time in three days Friday night at the DCU Center, and with Dante Salituro notching the first regular-season hat trick in franchise history and three Worcester players having multiple point night the Railers ended their seven game losing streak with a 6-4 win over the Growlers.
It was the fourth time in franchise history Worcester’s ECHL entry has had six goals in a game, the last time being March 9th against Norfolk. Fans will remember that game as the night Admirals goaltender Ty Reichenbach wanted to fight Blake Wojtala.
Salituro opened the scoring Friday night with a five on three power play goal that probably went exactly as new head coach Dave Cunniff drew it up. With Jordan Samuels-Thomas and Nic Pierog playing pitch and catch on the right wing side, Samuels-Thomas then turned toward the net, which froze the Newfoundland defense allowing an open passing lane to Salituro at the far post at 14:59.
The Railers then did exactly what you shouldn’t do, and allowed a goal in the last minute of the frame to Riley Woods to knot the score 1-1. Worcester then doubled down and allowed a Colt Conrad tally 30 seconds into the second period to trail 2-1.
One would think that putting two offensive-minded forwards like Samuels-Thomas and Salituro on the penalty kill might not be the best idea, but new Head Coach Dave Cunniff did just that and it paid off when Conner Doherty hit Salituro with a cross ice home run pass. Salituro entered the zone on the right side, found Samuels-Thomas heading toward the net, and Samuels-Thomas tucked a backhander past Growlers netminder Maksim Zhukov for the shorthanded goal at 4:08.
Evan Neugold gave Newfoundland the lead back at 6:03, and just a week ago that likely would have been the end for the offensively challenged Railers. But not now. Salituro got his team back to even after he took another home run pass, this time from Samuels-Thomas, and beat Zhukov clean to the high glove side at 11:22.
Pierog then gave his team a lead they would never relinquish when Doherty fired a hard shot on net that Pierog deflected from between the circles to make it 4-3 at 12:53.
In the third Ross Olsson made it a two goal game with a rocket of a shot after Cody Payne’s centering feed pinballed between a couple players and ended up right in the skating path of Olsson. The forward wasted no time, crushing a shot to the far side and in at 3:45 of the third.
Late in the frame the Growlers would make it interesting with an extra attacker goal by Justin Brazeau at 16:21, but Salituro would ice the game with a 175-foot empty net goal for his hat trick at 18:25.
Saturday night it’s the Indy Fuel making their first appearance ever at the DCU Center, with a 7pm pick drop.
Scratches for the Railers were Barry Almeida (14-day IR/lower), Bo Brauer, Drew Callin, Ivan Chukarov, Anthony Florentino (14 day IR/undisclosed), Tanner Pond (14-day IR/upper), Jack Stander, and Shane Walsh (14 day IR/upper). With Jakub Skarek being recalled to Bridgeport earlier in the day the Railers signed Holy Cross alumnus Tommy Nixon to be the emergency back-up goaltender.
The goaltending situation might get interesting for Worcester with just the Sound Tigers contracted netminder Evan Buitenhuis on the roster and Bridgeport goaltender Jared Coreau leaving their game Friday night against Springfield with a lower body injury. Skarek earned the win in relief.
Not only has new head coach Dave Cunniff installed a new offensive package that includes players shooting the puck quicker during break-ins instead of setting up in the offensive zone he’s installed something long missing from the Railers arsenal: the home run pass. Many teams have used this strategy effectively against Worcester the last couple of seasons, and now Cunniff is having the Railers attempt them. It has the added benefit of opening up the neutral zone as defenders have to play a bit deeper, allowing for better zone entries.
It took 161 ECHL games but the Railers finally have their first hat trick. The last Worcester player to have a regular season hat trick was Evan Trupp, who did it on February 28, 2015 vs St John’s IceCaps. Like Salituro, Trupp had a goal in each period and his third was into an open net. Nick Saracino had a playoff hat trick for the Railers on April 21, 2018 at Adirondack against the Thunder.
The three stars of the game were
1. WOR – 10 Dante Salituro
2. WOR – 37 Jordan Samuels-Thomas
3. WOR – 28 Connor Doherty
The 210Sports Player of the Game was Nic Pierog.
Even Strength Lines
Salituro / Pierog / Phillips
Thomas / Samuels-Thomas / Schmalz
Dudek / Payne / Olsson
McKenzie / Cornell
Murray / MacKinnon
Doherty / Quenneville
Newfoundland 1 2 1 – 4
Worcester 1 3 2 – 6
1st Period-1, Worcester, Salituro 1 (Samuels-Thomas, Pierog), 14:59 (PP). 2, Newfoundland, Woods 7 (Vander Esch), 19:16. Penalties-MacKinnon Wor (tripping), 11:01; Crocock Nfl (holding the stick), 14:18; Skirving Nfl (delay of game), 14:25.
2nd Period-3, Newfoundland, Conrad 3 (Kapla, Skirving), 0:30. 4, Worcester, Samuels-Thomas 6 (Salituro, Doherty), 4:08 (SH). 5, Newfoundland, Neugold 3 (Power, Vander Esch), 6:03. 6, Worcester, Salituro 2 (Samuels-Thomas, Murray), 11:22. 7, Worcester, Pierog 4 (Doherty), 12:53. Penalties-Johnston Nfl (tripping), 1:29; Dudek Wor (tripping), 2:33; Cornell Wor (roughing), 7:28; McKenzie Wor (holding), 7:28; Power Nfl (interference), 8:30.
3rd Period-8, Worcester, Olsson 3 (Payne, Cornell), 3:45. 9, Newfoundland, Brazeau 8 (Bradley, Conrad), 16:21. 10, Worcester, Salituro 3 18:25 (EN). Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal-Newfoundland 10-6-11-27. Worcester 10-9-3-22.
Power Play Opportunities-Newfoundland 0 / 4; Worcester 1 / 4.
Goalies-Newfoundland, Zhukov 6-7-0-0 (21 shots-16 saves). Worcester, Buitenhuis 2-4-0-0 (27 shots-23 saves).
Referees-Kyle Lekun (32).
Linesmen-Stephen Drain (52), Shane Kanaly (74).