With 20 months between home games for the Worcester Railers fans were itching to get back to the DCU Center to get their first glimpse of the 2021-2022 team as 10,508 showed up to catch the home opener, and what they saw was an amazing pro debut of rookie goaltender Colten Ellis, who made several highlight quality saves to keep Worcester in the contest as the Railers came back from three one-goal deficits to defeat the Maine Mariners 4-3.
The building was abuzz from the moment the lights dropped for player introductions, and the roar that could be heard when Collin Adams put the puck into the Mariners net just over four minutes into the contest was thunderous. The boos were just as loud a few moments later when referee Alex Normandin correctly waved the goal off for incidental goaltender interference against Paul Thompson.
So of course it would be Maine that officially got on the board first when a flubbed offensive break-in by the Railers into the Mariners zone led to a two-on-one going the other way. Keltie Jeri-Leon fed the puck across the slot to Mathew Santos, who flipped it past Ellis to make it 1-0 at 15:41 of the first.
University of Maine alumni Nolan Vesey would get the equalizer soon after.
As has started to become a trend that Worcester head coach Dave Cunniff needs to break, for the second time in as many games the Railers allowed a goal in the final minute of a period when once again an offensive zone turnover resulted in an odd-man rush the other way, with Pascal Laberge finishing the break-in with a hard wrist shot that beat Ellis glove side with just 14.5 seconds remaining in the frame.
In a trend that Cunniff absolutely doesn’t want to change, also for the second time in as many nights Worcester scored a goal in the first minute of a period when Felix Bibeau knotted the score 2-2 with an odd-man rush of their own.
Maine would retake the lead at 10:46 when the Worcester defense failed to pick up Nick Master, who skated in on Ellis and had multiple whacks at the puck with no Railers player able to get a body on him, and after three attempts he was able to knock one past Ellis to make it 3-2.
Once again Worcester was able to answer, and once again it was Vesey getting his team back to even on a nice tip of a Zach Malatesta shot.
To the third the teams went, and on a team with its share of rookies it was an old friend that put in the eventual game-winner for the Railers.
But that was hardly all of the action as all game Ellis made quality save after quality save, and while this one wasn’t his best it may have been the biggest as he stoned Lewis Zerter-Gossage with an incredible glove save in traffic.
The Railers are off until Wednesday when they take on the Adirondack Thunder in Glens Falls, with a 7pm scheduled puck drop. The Railers return of action at the DCU Center on Saturday, November 6 against the Florida Everblades at 7pm for Worcester IceCats night. Single-game tickets may be purchased through Ticketmaster at Ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000.
Scratches for the Railers were Liam Coughlin (14-day IR/unknown), JD Dudek, John Furgele, Grant Jozefek, Anthony Repaci, Ross Olsson (14-day IR/unknown), Tyler Poulsen, and Charlie Spetz (14-day IR/unknown). Justin Kapelmaster was the backup goaltender. After going with 11 forwards and five defensemen on Friday night in Maine head coach Dave Cunniff went with the usual 10-6 line-up for the home opener.
Four days into the new season and already Worcester has had eight transactions, all involving the Springfield Thunderbirds and the same four players. After Friday’s recalls and loans, Springfield flipped the players Saturday, sending Nic Pierog and Blake Christensen back to the Railers and recalling Mathias Laferriere and Keean Washkurak. Pierog and Christensen were in the line-up for Worcester while Laferriere and Washkurak were scratched in Springfield’s 4-3 OT loss in Bridgeport.
With the number of Worcester players that went down the tunnel to the dressing room during the game, it’s a good bet that there were a lot of sore hockey players after the game, but one potentially catastrophic injury was avoided by what looked to be a very small margin. With just under four minutes left in the third period and the Railers nursing the 4-3 lead Worcester defenseman Zach Malatesta and Maine forward Andrew Romano fell to the ice fighting for the puck along the halfboards. Romano’s skate came up and clipped Malatesta in the facial area, but luckily his face shield and helmet took the brunt of the hit. Just an inch or two lower and that could have been a terrible scene.
In something one wouldn’t expect from a goaltender, as soon as the puck was dropped Colten Ellis grabbed a very small piece of Worcester pro hockey history with his #92 becoming the highest number worn in a game. That “record” was previously held by former Railers captain Ashton Rome, who sported the #88 in his tenure with the club. Jan Horacek had the highest number worn by an IceCats player with #57, and Brandon Mashinter had the WorSharks highest number with #53. A higher number than Ellis’ #92 has appeared on the bench for a Worcester team, with IceCats equipment manager J.C. Ihrig using #93 when he was forced into the emergency backup goaltender role.
The season is early but one thing that’s happened a lot in the two games Worcester has played is defensemen losing track of the players that are behind them when the team transitions from defense to offense. With the Railers defenders eager to jump into the play offensively that often leaves one, or more, opponents trailing the play. Maine took advantage of that both Friday and Saturday by being able to send odd-man rushes back in the other direction after missed shots or turnovers, including a partial two-on-none Saturday against Ellis. Luckily a bouncing puck prevented a quality chance.
Of all the goals Worcester allowed over this weekend the Nick Master tally at 10:46 of the middle frame was the most troubling for this writer. Both defensemen Karl Boudrias and Myles McGurty were out of position by a significant amount, and neither made much of an effort to chase down Master despite the forward being just a couple of strides away, allowing him multiple attempts before he put the puck in the net. Nic Pierog was the closest Railers player to Master but couldn’t arrive in time to do much good.
The three stars of the game were
1. WOR – 11 Nolan Vesey
2. WOR – 92 Colten Ellis
3. WOR – 61 Nic Pierog
The 210Sports Player of the Game was Zach Malatesta.
Even Strength Lines
Christensen / Bibeau / Smotherman
Beaudoin / Hayhurst / Vesey
Adams / Pierog / Thompson
Malatesta / Cornell
Albano / McCarthy
Boudrias / McGurty
Maine 2 1 0 – 3
Worcester 1 2 1 – 4
1st Period-1, Maine, Santos 2 (Jeri-Leon, Doherty), 15:41. 2, Worcester, Vesey 1 (Pierog, Boudrias), 18:03. 3, Maine, Laberge 2 (Brazeau, Kim), 19:45. Penalties-Vesey Wor (boarding), 6:04.
2nd Period-4, Worcester, Bibeau 1 (Smotherman, Malatesta), 0:23. 5, Maine, Master 1 (Jeri-Leon, Santos), 10:46. 6, Worcester, Vesey 2 (Malatesta, Beaudoin), 14:59. Penalties-Doherty Mne (roughing), 7:05; Malatesta Wor (elbowing), 17:18.
3rd Period-7, Worcester, Pierog 1 (Hayhurst), 6:56. Penalties-Doherty Mne (roughing), 4:49; Vesey Wor (roughing, roughing), 4:49; Master Mne (interference), 5:26; Thompson Wor (roughing), 5:26; Duquette Mne (interference), 8:57; Albano Wor (delay of game), 17:17.
Shots on Goal-Maine 12-20-13-45. Worcester 7-14-9-30.
Power Play Opportunities-Maine 0 / 4; Worcester 0 / 2.
Goalies-Maine, Bouthillier 0-1-0-0 (30 shots-26 saves). Worcester, Ellis 1-0-0-0 (45 shots-42 saves).
Referees-Alex Normandin (26).
Linesmen-Ryan Robinson (96), Evan Reddick (67).
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