By the time the Worcester Railers hit the ice at the DCU Center on Friday night against the Reading Royals they’ll have been away from their home rink for 19 days, with most of that time spent more than 2,000 away from their own beds. After picking up nine of a possible 12 points in the Rocky Mountains the Railers find themselves in the fourth and final playoff spot in the ECHL’s North Division.
What might be more amazing is Worcester could have very easily swept that six-game trip, with their 5-4 loss in Utah coming after they held a 4-3 lead early in the third period but then sat back on their heels too much and allowed the North Division leading Grizzlies to grab two late goals.
Their overtime loss in Idaho, where they came back from a 4-2 second period deficit to force the extra stanza, came off a Steelheads power play tally after an out-of-position referee Nolan Bloyer called Anthony Repaci for holding Matt Tugnutt on a partial breakaway. It turned what was a great defensive play into a shorthanded situation for the Railers, who eventually allowed the four-on-three power play goal.
Worcester’s season-long seven-game road trip ends Wednesday night in Reading in the first of a home and home match-up against the Royals.
During the trip out west, the Railers had to face former team member Brian Bowen in Utah. Bowen currently leads the Grizzlies in goals with 19 and is fifth in points with 33, but the Littleton, Massachusetts native was held to two secondary assists by Worcester in the three-game set. In Idaho, Steelheads forward Mitch Versteeg played three games with the WorSharks during the 2009-10 season under then-assistant coach David Cunniff. Versteeg did not register a point in those games and didn’t play in the series against the Railers.
In news that shouldn’t be exciting but is, after the gargantuan amount of transactions this season Worcester has managed to go two weeks with the same roster of players. Since February 15th when Felix Bibeau was recalled to Bridgeport there have been no players added or subtracted from the overall roster–moves involving the reserve list don’t really count–which makes it the longest stretch of time this season without losing or gaining a player. It’s no coincidence the Railers’ play has drastically improved during that time.
Looking back on February, Worcester’s special teams have improved greatly, another bonus of a stable roster, with the power play clicking at 31.7% for the month and the penalty kill chugging along at 87% for the month. The Railers’ streak of consecutive games with a power play goal was stopped at six games Saturday, which set a new franchise record. The previous record was five games, set at the end of January this season.
In some notable streaks, Nolan Vesey, who set a Railers franchise single-season record with his fourth empty-net goal last Saturday night, is on a three-game goal streak. Jacob Hayhurst has gone a season-high 11 straight games rated even or better, while Charlie Spetz is at eight games. Liam Coughlin went seven games in a row with an assist, which was a new franchise record. He didn’t have a point in Saturday’s win, ending the streak.
In a quick personal story, last weekend was my yearly “hockey-free weekend”, although like past vacations that really means I’m not using social media to talk about hockey but still watching if time permits. Last Saturday night was one where time permitted. Because the hotel I was staying at hadn’t hosted a large show since the pandemic started there were a couple bumps to deal with, one being the TVs in the bar weren’t hooked up to cable yet. So on Saturday night, I brought my laptop down to the bar so a friend and I could watch the Railers in Idaho while we had a few drinks.
A couple fellow drunks noticed we were watching a hockey game and joked we should try to get it to play on the TVs. The bartender made it happen quickly, and within ten minutes all the TVs at the bar were showing the Railers game. As people came over to the bar nearly every head was up looking at the TVs, and soon everyone was rooting for the boys in orange. When Vesey scored the empty-net goal you’d have thought the Railers had won the Stanley Cup as wild cheering broke out.
Unfortunately, most of those watching aren’t local so I likely didn’t convert any to be Worcester hockey fans, but for one brief moment, a bar at a gaming convention in Marlborough became the largest watch-party the Railers have had in a long while. Here’s to hoping we can find a spot for a larger crowd later this season.
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