The Worcester Railers hosted the Kalamazoo Wings at the DCU Center Friday night for the first time in franchise history in the opener of a three-in-three weekend series between the clubs, and as they’ve done a lot recently the Railers put together 60-minutes of great hockey to win 5-2.
It was only a few weeks ago fans were starting to grumble that the team general manager and head coach Dave Cunniff had put together didn’t match the hype, but now that the Springfield and Bridgeport rosters have settled and Worcester seems to be at the end of its COVID issues the team has finally started to gel, and while things are far from perfect fans now can see what Cunniff’s plan for the roster was supposed to look like.
It was the K-Wings that got on the board first when Greg Betzold made an NHL-level tip of Andrew DeBrincat’s hard shot at 6:03 of the first period. We don’t usually show the opponent’s goals, but this one is absolutely textbook.
Ross Olsson answered on the power play for Worcester with a defection of his own and shows why you should always keep your stick on the ice.
The two teams were 1-1 after one period, but it only took 12 seconds of the middle frame for Worcester to take the lead.
Anthony Repaci made it 3-1 at 15:14 on a goal you could see was going to happen before Nolan Vesey even passed the puck.
Old friend Justin Murray followed Jacob Hayhurst’s lead by getting one back for Kalamazoo just 16 seconds into period number three to make it 3-2. At 3:02 Blake Christensen was the last to touch the puck as it went into the K-Wings net. Referee Alec Rounds, who this writer thinks called a great game, ruled it no goal right away. After a lengthy video review Rounds reversed his call.
Christensen would then tack on an unassisted empty-net goal at 16:54, the second earliest empty netter in franchise history, for the 5-2 final.
Scratches for the Railers were Nick Albano, Bobby Butler (Commissioner’s Exempt List), Grant Jozefek (IR/upper body), Danny Katic, Chris Ordoobadi, Ethan Price, and Matt Sredl (IR/unknown). With Ken Appleby reassigned to Bridgeport the Railers traded cash to Tulsa to reacquire Jimmy Poreda, but with the weather preventing him from getting to Worcester longtime EBUG Joe Spagnoli was the backup goaltender. If Spagnoli ever needs to play the Railers might be in a bit of trouble as his last appearance in a pro game was on January 25, 2015, for the FHL’s Watertown Wolves against the Berkshire Battalion. He made no saves on two shots in 3:58 of relief play and took the loss in an 8-4 game.
Ross Olsson wrote himself in the Railers record books Friday by notching his tenth career power play goal, breaking Barry Almeida’s old record of nine. It was also his eighth on the season, tying Tyler Barnes’ Railers single-season record. Olsson has a long way to go to get to the single-season Worcester pro record of 16, set by Mathieu Darche in the WorSharks 2006-07 season. Jame Pollock’s career mark of 28 is likely untouchable. Olsson currently ranks third all-time for the Railers with 27 career goals and eighth in career points with 44.
It was the first time the Kalamazoo Wings and Worcester have played this season, so we’ll take our customary look at some of the roster connections, and the closest the Railers have to a connection is Jacob Hayhurst played a season of college hockey for the University of Michigan, which is about a hundred miles east of Kalamazoo. For the Wings, defenseman Justin Murray and goaltender Jason Pawloski used to play for the Railers. Murray went 2-8-10 in 59 games with Worcester in 2019-20, tallying 84 penalty minutes, and was minus-14. He was the 210Sports Railers “Best Defenseman” and “7th Player” that season. Pawloski’s tenure with the Railers is best forgotten. Forward Greg Mauldin played three seasons for UMass-Amherst, and had seven games with Bridgeport and Binghamton against the WorSharks, going 3-3-6.
With it being the first game of the week we’ll take a look at who was voted as “Player of the Week” last week in the Railers fans Facebook group, and it was Anthony Repaci and his three goals and four assists last week in an almost unanimous vote. Repaci garnered 42 of the 45 votes cast. Nolan Vesey, Brent Beaudoin, and Will Cullen were the other nominees. Honorable mention, which we never needed to ever include before, was John Furgele’s three assists and +5 for the week, which didn’t make the cut. With Repaci getting 93% of the votes cast, it probably wouldn’t have mattered who we included.
On a personal note, Friday was the third consecutive game this writer has missed due to the weather, which is far as I can tell is the first time in 28 years of hockey that’s happened. The list of things to ask the Railers about the previous three games is pretty long, although I suspect the one big question I have concerning last Sunday’s game will probably get nothing more than a wink and a nod. Not that it will matter, I have a pretty good idea everyone is already on the same page with that.
The three stars of the game were
1. WOR – 10 Blake Christensen
2. WOR – 92 Colten Ellis
3. WOR – 16 Jacob Hayhurst
The 210Sports Player of the Game was Brent Beaudoin.
Even Strength Lines
Vesey / Beaudoin / Repaci
Newkirk / Hayhurst / Coskey
Olsson / Coughlin / Smotherman
Spetz / Cullen
Osmanski / McCarthy
Furgele / McGurty
Kalamazoo 1 0 1 – 2
Worcester 1 2 2 – 5
1st Period-1, Kalamazoo, Betzold 7 (DeBrincat, Corbett), 6:03. 2, Worcester, Olsson 13 (Coskey, Hayhurst), 8:13 (PP). Penalties-Rockwell Kal (holding), 7:17; Coughlin Wor (interference), 9:32.
2nd Period-3, Worcester, Hayhurst 7 (Newkirk, Coskey), 0:12. 4, Worcester, Repaci 13 (Vesey, Beaudoin), 15:14. Penalties-Spetz Wor (high-sticking), 0:46; Taylor Kal (tripping), 1:55.
3rd Period-5, Kalamazoo, Murray 4 (Masella), 0:16. 6, Worcester, Christensen 7 (Beaudoin, McCarthy), 3:02. 7, Worcester, Christensen 8 16:54 (EN). Penalties-Sorenson Kal (hooking), 5:31; Newkirk Wor (slashing), 6:12.
Shots on Goal-Kalamazoo 12-11-8-31. Worcester 14-17-12-43.
Power Play Opportunities-Kalamazoo 0 / 3; Worcester 1 / 3.
Goalies-Kalamazoo, Gorsuch 10-10-0-0 (42 shots-38 saves). Worcester, Ellis 7-3-1-0 (31 shots-29 saves).
Referees-Alec Rounds (9).
Linesmen-Ryan Robinson (96), Brent Colby (77).