The Worcester Railers ended 2019 with a whimper, losing two winnable games and earning just a single point in their trip to Newfoundland. But last year was last year, and the Railers started off 2020 with a bang as they took it to the Reading Royals at Santander Arena Friday night, defeating their ECHL North Division rivals 4-1 in the first of two games this weekend in the Keystone State.
It didn’t take long for Worcester to get on the board, and they used a newcomer to do it. The play began innocently enough, with Mike Cornell taking a Dante Salituro feed and moving down the right wing side in the Reading zone. Cornell took a wide angle shot that Royals netminder Felix Sandstrom made easy work of, but the rebound went right to Shane Walsh. His return shot required Sandstrom to flash the right pad out to make the save, and the puck dropped in the crease in front of Ben Thomson who pushed it into the yawning net for his first ECHL goal just 32 seconds into the contest.
The Railers continued to pressure Reading and that led to their second goal of the contest when Yanick Turcotte won a puck battle against Royals defender Mike Crocock at the right wing half boards. With Ivan Chukarov calling for the puck at the left point Turcotte hit him with a nice diagonal cross zone pass. Chukarov then skated into the circle to the right of Sandstrom and fired an absolute laser high stick side at 3:12.
Reading called their timeout, and that got the Royals back on track. Unfortunately for them, Worcester goaltender Evan Buitenhuis was about as good as a netminder can be and made save after save to keep the Railers two goal lead intact.
The second period didn’t see many chances for either club, with Worcester tying a franchise low five road second period shots and tying their fewest allowed shots in a road middle frame with six. The 11 combined shots were also a franchise low in a road middle period for the Railers.
In the third period the ice was decidedly tilted toward the Worcester end as they allowed a franchise tying worse 18 shots in the frame. Many of those came after referee Andrew Bruggeman assessed Turcotte a five minute major for charging on what appeared to this writer to be a clean hit. Turcotte was also given a game misconduct.
Things then got worse when Salituro was given a high sticking minor while killing the penalty, giving the Royals’ top-five ranked power play a full two minute five on three. With memories of Tuesday’s third period collapse fresh in their minds the Railers did something that had only been done four times before in Worcester pro hockey history: they scored while two men down.
It’s a goal that should never happen, and it takes a whole lot of hard work and a bit of luck to even have a chance. The luck happened when Nic Pierog blocked Jeremy Beaudry’s shot and the puck bounced to some open ice. Pierog picked it up and skated out to the neutral zone. The hard word was Ryan MacKinnon racing out of the Worcester end and out-hustling Beaudry to get ahead of the pack. Pierog hit MacKinnon in stride with a nice pass and MacKinnon went alone on Sandstrom, beating him high glove at 6:10 of the third.
At 10:56 of the frame Trevor Gooch ended Buitenhuis’ shutout bid when he knocked home a loose puck after a Marly Quince bid. Worcester had to sweat out another Royals power play late in the frame, but Buitenhuis once again kept his team up two. Drew Callin added an empty net goal at 19:46 for the 4-1 final.
The two teams play again Saturday night, with puck drop scheduled for 7pm.
Scratches for the Railers were Bo Brauer, JD Dudek (14-day IR/upper), Cody Payne, Tanner Pond (14-day IR/upper), Kyle McKenzie (unknown injury), and Jordan Samuels-Thomas (unknown injury). Ian Milosz was the back-up goaltender. Kyle Thomas was returned to Worcester when he was released from his PTO with San Diego. Thomas was scoreless in two games with the Gulls, although he may be re-signed by San Diego in the future. Samuels-Thomas did not make the trip to Reading. During the week defenseman Mike Cornell was returned on loan to Worcester by Bridgeport and the Sound Tigers loaned forward Ben Thomson to the Railers.
During the Railers pregame show General Manager and Head Coach Dave Cunniff took responsibility for Worcester playing shorthanded on their Newfoundland trip, saying players the team thought were healthy to play weren’t. He added that they’re going to make sure that there will be extra bodies around in the future to prevent the team from being down skaters on game days.
When he’s not joined by player/assistant coach Barry Almeida Coach Cunniff is usually alone behind the bench as the search for a full time assistant continues, but on Friday he was joined by Eric Cairns, Director of Player Development for the New York Islanders.
Something for Worcester fans to think about…due to injuries on the Islanders and Sound Tigers and recalls from Bridgeport there is suddenly a shortage of left shooting defensemen on the Sound Tigers roster. Should Bridgeport decide to sign one you’d have to think Connor Doherty would get a look. He’s one of the most solid defensemen in the ECHL, and it’s not like they don’t have a lot of insight on his ability to play. Currently Doherty is the only player to play in all 32 Worcester games this season.
The three stars of the game were
1. WOR – 34 Evan Buitenhuis
2. WOR – 4 Ryan MacKinnon
3. REA – 7 Trevor Gooch
The 210Sports Player of the Game was Ben Thomson.
Even Strength Lines
Almeida / Pierog / Thomas
Thomson / Walsh / Salituro
Olsson / Callin / Turcotte
Stander / Cornell
Murray / MacKinnon
Chukarov / Doherty
Worcester 2 0 2 – 4
Reading 0 0 1 – 1
1st Period-1, Worcester, Thomson 1 (Walsh, Cornell), 0:32. 2, Worcester, Chukarov 1 (Turcotte), 3:12. Penalties-No Penalties
2nd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Doherty Wor (boarding), 13:33; Strome Rea (interference), 16:04.
3rd Period-3, Worcester, MacKinnon 2 (Pierog), 6:10 (SH). 4, Reading, Gooch 5 (Quince, Stork), 10:56. 5, Worcester, Callin 6 (Thomson, MacKinnon), 19:46 (EN). Penalties-Turcotte Wor (charging major, game misconduct – charging), 4:23; Salituro Wor (high-sticking), 5:32; Murray Wor (roughing), 8:25; Beaudry Rea (roughing), 8:25; Salituro Wor (high-sticking), 12:40.
Shots on Goal-Worcester 9-5-5-19. Reading 7-6-18-31.
Power Play Opportunities-Worcester 0 / 1; Reading 0 / 4.
Goalies-Worcester, Buitenhuis 7-10-1-0 (31 shots-30 saves). Reading, Sandström 6-8-0-0 (18 shots-15 saves).
Referees-Andrew Bruggeman (25).
Linesmen-Judson Ritter (70), Andrew Bell (73).