Railers smother Growlers, win 4-3 in front of sellout crowd

The Worcester Railers took on the high-flying Newfoundland Growlers Saturday night at the DCU Center in the first of a pair of meetings this weekend, and on Military Appreciation Night where the team honored current military members and veterans it was hockey veteran Jordan Smotherman’s night as the Railers captain scored a hat trick to help lead Worcester to a 4-3 win in front of 8,774 fans.

Longtime Worcester hockey fans are calling the contest the greatest pro hockey game ever played at the DCU Center, and with all that took place on and off the ice and considering the Railers past issues in even just competing with the Growlers, it would be hard to come up with one better.

But it didn’t start that way.

In the opening frame, the shots were reasonably close, with Newfoundland having the 12-9 advantage, but the legitimate scoring chances favored the Growlers by a wide margin. And a team like the Growlers eventually takes advantage of their chances, so despite Worcester netminder Ken Appleby playing pretty well the Railers found themselves down 2-0 after twenty minutes on goals by Isaac Johnson (14:13) and Riley McCourt (18:28). Appleby really had no chance at stopping either of those.

Worcester head coach Dave Cunniff probably wouldn’t tell you what he said to his team that first intermission, and if he did it likely wouldn’t be fit to print anyway, but the Railers came out of the gate in the second period like they had something to prove. And it was no surprise it was Smotherman leading the way.

Less than four minutes later, it was Smotherman again to tie it.

And 4:44 after that, Smotherman completed the natural hat trick and set the Railers franchise mark for fastest three goals by a single player.

But Worcester is still prone to making a few mistakes, and Connor McCarthy made a big one with a totally unnecessary holding penalty late in the second. Tyler Boland made the Railers pay for it with a goal at 14:30, and the teams headed into the third period tied 3-3.

The Growlers are not a team that makes many errors. They play quick, disciplined hockey, and when they do make one of their rare mistakes teams have to capitalize on it because you may not get another chance. Mitchell Balmas was able to pounce on a Newfoundland error, and he absolutely capitalized.

From that point on Worcester didn’t just try to hold on to their 4-3 lead, they skated stride for stride with the Growlers and continued to play hard-nosed hockey. When the final horn sounded the explosion of crowd noise was almost deafening.

And it’s a good bet the rest of the ECHL’s North Division could hear it.

Scratches for the Railers were Felix Bibeau (day-to-day/lower body), Blake Christensen, Liam Coughlin (IR/unknown), Grant Jozefek (IR/upper body), Chris Ordoobadi (IR/unknown), and Charlie Spetz. Colten Ellis was the backup goaltender. Despite how ugly it looked on video the Railers are calling Felix Bibeau’s injury the “day to day” variety, but not expecting him to play for at least a few days. Considering what it looked like, that’s great news for him and the team.

One thing Worcester does well is special events. It’s a carryover from Railers COO Mike Myers’ tenure with the WorSharks, who also never dropped the ball when it came to events and recognitions on the ice. With it being Military Appreciation Night there was the usual list of dignitaries at the game, but never once were they in the spotlight. It was all about current and former members of the military, from the pregame to after the final whistle. There were so many incredible moments it could fill this entire blog posting, but two stood out to me. The first was early in the third period during a stoppage in play when PA announcer Adam Webster asked all current and former members of the military to stand and be recognized. Referee JR Stragar held up the faceoff so service members could receive the ovation they deserved, and all three officials and both benches joined the applause. The second was postgame when the Railers traditionally go to center ice to recognize the fans. After doing that, captain Jordan Smotherman lead the team toward the visitor’s end of the ice to recognize the uniformed service members who had held the giant flag in the 200-section for the national anthem.

It was also an amazing night for fundraising as Worcester Railers Booster Club President Rich Lundin reported that the club set a record for its 50/50 raffle and will be donating $1,800 to the Central MA Veterans Support. The club’s records go back through the IceCats days, so that is indeed an impressive achievement. (In a reporting error we said yesterday that the weekend’s 50/50 proceeds were going to The Worcester Junior Railers Mike Ellsessar Scholarship Fund, but it’s just Friday’s and Sunday’s raffles going to that charity.) Railers Community Relations Manager Paul “Pablo” Harris reported some early unofficial numbers on the money raised in the jersey auction, but in the end, it looks like the amount when it’s all said and done will be well over $15,000. Once all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed, coupled with the amazing game, it will be the most successful night on and off the ice in Worcester pro hockey history.

There’s no official team or league record of the longest stretch of play without a whistle, and it’s not something that this writer or former Telegram and current Railers scribe Bill Ballou keep track of, but the 10:58 of clock time Worcester and Newfoundland went without a stoppage in play absolutely has to rank up there as one of the longest ever in pro hockey. Between the 7:44 mark when referee Stragar called the Growlers Garrett Johnston and 18:42 when Myles McGurty’s clearing attempt was deflected out of the way there were only three official shots on goal, but the end to end play was fast and furious and the blocked shots numerous. My unofficial count of hits by both teams was 18, and I gave up trying to count line changes at 35 combined.

There were three video reviews in the game, and in all three cases, the call on the ice by referee Stragar was confirmed. Twice it was on no-goal calls for the Railers, and each time video showed the puck hitting the post/crossbar despite, as my perch-mate Rich put it, the “100 goal judges behind the net disagree. But then again they’ve been drinking”. Referee Stragar also reviewed Newfoundland’s third goal for goaltender interference, which on the replay shown on the Daktronics board I saw none of, and neither did Stragar. A more indepth check of the video this morning doesn’t change any conclusions.

The three stars of the game were:
1. WOR – 14 Jordan Smotherman
2. WOR – 86 Mitchell Balmas
3. WOR – 81 Anthony Repaci

The 210Sports Player of the Game was Ken Appleby.

Even Strength Lines
Repaci / Beaudoin / Butler
Price / Balmas / Smotherman
Olsson / Hayhurst / Coskey

McCarthy / McGurty
Osmanski / Sredl
Verrier / Markell

In the North Division
South Carolina 2, Maine 0
Reading 5, Adirondack 3

Our affiliates last night
NY Islanders 4, Dallas 2
Columbus 5, St Louis 4
Bridgeport 7, Syracuse 4
Lehigh Valley 7, Springfield 4

Newfoundland 2 1 0 – 3
Worcester 0 3 1 – 4

1st Period-1, Newfoundland, Johnson 10 (Melindy, Johnston), 14:13. 2, Newfoundland, McCourt 11 (Centazzo, Hoefenmayer), 18:28. Penalties-Olsson Wor (roughing), 3:58; Johnson Nfl (slashing), 15:10; McKenna Nfl (fighting – major), 19:36; Balmas Wor (fighting – major), 19:36.

2nd Period-3, Worcester, Smotherman 26 (Sredl, Repaci), 4:22 (PP). 4, Worcester, Smotherman 27 (Repaci, Beaudoin), 8:04. 5, Worcester, Smotherman 28 (Butler, Balmas), 12:48 (PP). 6, Newfoundland, Boland 5 (Johnson, Johnstone), 14:30 (PP). Penalties-Pietroniro Nfl (slashing), 2:25; Johnston Nfl (holding), 11:22; McCarthy Wor (holding), 14:06; Olsson Wor (slashing), 14:35.

3rd Period-7, Worcester, Balmas 3 2:08. Penalties-McCourt Nfl (high-sticking), 5:54; Johnson Nfl (hooking), 7:44.

Shots on Goal-Newfoundland 12-10-7-29. Worcester 9-12-5-26.
Power Play Opportunities-Newfoundland 1 / 3; Worcester 2 / 5.
Goalies-Newfoundland, Redmond 7-9-0-0 (26 shots-22 saves). Worcester, Appleby 10-9-0-1 (29 shots-26 saves).
Referees-JR Stragar (2).
Linesmen-Sam Schildkraut (46), JP Waleski (51).

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