The Worcester Railers may have ended their Canada swing on a down note after losing 3-2 to the Newfoundland Growlers Saturday night at the Mile One Centre in St John’s Newfoundland, but the trip to the Great White North showed that the team can play well against the ECHL’s best.
Railers head coach Dave Cunniff would certainly admit that there’s still lots of work to be done in improving the team, but fans watching can see the difference on the ice as Cunniff has opened up the offense to allow his skilled players the opportunity to score more goals. And they have.
One might say that a team scoring 18 goals over their last six games isn’t all that great, but that three goals per game average is better than the 2.6 goals Worcester had averaged this season before Cunniff took over. Overall, former head coach Jamie Russell’s Railers teams averaged 2.7 goals per game over his 159 game tenure. The league average over the last two completed seasons was 3.16 per game.
Presuming the trend of scoring more goals continues Worcester’s ECHL North Division rivals better watch out for that light at the end of the tunnel, because it will indeed be a train.
Saturday night Worcester’s big issue was the penalty kill, which allowed all three Newfoundland goals. Even though two of those three power plays that resulted in goals were poor calls by referee Eric Krasnichuk you still have to kill them, and the Railers failed to do that against the Growlers’ high powered offense.
Like Friday night, the teams were scoreless after one period and Worcester grabbed the first goal of the middle stanza. David Quenneville started the play by pushing the puck up the right side to Kyle Thomas. The veteran forward did the rest of the work, outracing the Newfoundland defense to the Growlers’ end and firing a high shot from the face-off circle over Parker Gahagen and in at 1:34 of the frame.
With Yanick Turcotte in the box for a deserved roughing minor Marcus Power then tied it with a backdoor one-timer at 2:55.
Jordan Samuels-Thomas gave his team the lead back with a power play goal at 4:14 when JD Dudek took a bad angle shot that Gahagen made the save on. Samuels-Thomas was standing at the top of the crease and banged the rebound home to make it 2-1. Nic Pierog had the secondary helper.
Newfoundland would tie it a second time, this time with Cody Payne in the box for a tripping penalty that no one but referee Krasnichuk saw. Matt Bradley got the equalizer at 15:28 off a rebound bid. The Growlers got the game winner at 3:19 of the third with defenseman Jack Stander off for another phantom tripping minor when Power converted on an odd man rush as the Railers raced back after a failed shorthanded bid.
Netminder Evan Buitenhuis was outstanding in the contest, making many great saves in the opening period to keep Newfoundland off the board. He finished the game with 32 stops and was the contest’s third star.
Scratches for the Railers were Barry Almeida (14-day IR/lower), Ivan Chukarov, Anthony Florentino (14 day IR/undisclosed), Ross Olsson, Tanner Pond (14-day IR/upper), and Shane Walsh (14 day IR/upper). Ian Milsoz was the back-up goaltender.
The Railers will finally have an opportunity to have some uninterrupted practice time under new head coach and general manager Dave Cunniff. Since Cunniff took over for Jamie Russell Worcester hasn’t had many consecutive days off that didn’t include travel. With the Railers returning to Worcester from Canada on Sunday even if Monday is an off day that will still give the team three days of practice in a row before next weekend’s three-in-three at the DCU Center.
Unlike Friday night when Newfoundland’s Batman themed DC specialty jerseys were stuck in Toronto, on Saturday the Growlers wore a tribute jersey for the St John’s Maple Leafs. As their name suggests, the Maple Leafs were Toronto’s AHL affiliate from 1991 until they moved to Toronto to become the Marlies in 2005. They played at the Memorial Stadium from 1991 to 2001, and at Mile One Stadium from 2001 to 2005. Some Worcester hockey alumni that played for the franchise include Steve Bancroft, Dallas Eakins, Tyler Harlton, Justin Hocking, Don Parsons, Rob Pearson, and Shayne Toporowski.
Some streaking Railers…Jordan Samuels-Thomas has a five game points streak, with five goals and five assists over that span. He is also the only Worcester player to have a shot in every game played this season. Player/assistant coach Barry Almeida had a shot on goal in every game he played before his injury. Nic Pierog has a three game points streak, with two goals and an assist. Connor Doherty has been “even” or better for five straight, and Kyle McKenzie has a four game streak, raising his rating from minus-8 to minus-1.
The three stars of the game were
1. NFL – 9 Marcus Power
2. NFL – 13 Riley Woods
3. WOR – 34 Evan Buitenhuis
The 210Sports Player of the Game was Jordan Samuels-Thomas.
Even Strength Lines
Samuels-Thomas / Pierog / Salituro
Brauer / Dudek / Thomas
Turcotte / Callin / Schmalz
Doherty / Quenneville
Murray / MacKinnon
Stander / Mackenzie
Worcester 0 2 0 – 2
Newfoundland 0 2 1 – 3
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-No Penalties
2nd Period-1, Worcester, Thomas 5 (Quenneville), 1:34. 2, Newfoundland, Power 8 (Woods, Ferguson), 2:55 (PP). 3, Worcester, Samuels-Thomas 10 (Dudek, Pierog), 4:14 (PP). 4, Newfoundland, Bradley 5 (Duszak, Kapla), 15:28 (PP). Penalties-Turcotte Wor (roughing), 1:43; Duszak Nfl (hooking), 3:13; served by Callin Wor (bench – objects on ice), 7:11; Payne Wor (tripping), 14:19.
3rd Period-5, Newfoundland, Power 9 (Woods, Estephan), 3:19 (PP). Penalties-Stander Wor (tripping), 2:34; Neugold Nfl (hooking), 8:58; Woods Nfl (slashing), 19:12.
Shots on Goal-Worcester 9-13-9-31. Newfoundland 16-10-9-35.
Power Play Opportunities-Worcester 1 / 3; Newfoundland 3 / 4.
Goalies-Worcester, Buitenhuis 3-7-0-0 (35 shots-32 saves). Newfoundland, Gahagen 1-0-0-0 (31 shots-29 saves).
Referees-Eric Krasnichuk (18).
Linesmen-Jim Vail (75), Darryl Butt (70).