Railers remain undefeated with 4-3 OT win over Newfoundland

The Worcester Railers and Newfoundland Growlers met Wednesday night at the DCU Center in a battle of undefeated teams and despite a fast start it took a last-minute goal from Anthony Repaci to even the score and an overtime game-winner from Collin Adams for Worcester to keep the zero in their loss column.

Adams end to end overtime goal was exactly the outcome the fans in attendance were looking for, and while it was the usual sparse Wednesday crowd when Adams flipped the puck over Growlers netminder Dryden McKay you’d have thought the building was full to the rafters.

It has the potential to be an important win as Worcester showed they have the ability to skate with the ECHL’s North Division’s perennial favorites, and that they won’t be pushed around anymore. And it was exactly what the fans wanted, and probably needed, to see. But despite the outcome, Wednesday night’s 63-minutes of hockey showed something to this writer:

The Newfoundland Growlers are still a better hockey team.

The fact that the Railers needed an extra-attacker goal to tie it late is just part of the story. The Growlers never once panicked down 2-0 and kept playing their game. They are well known for capitalizing on their opponent’s mistakes, and Worcester made plenty of them.

In order for Jordan Smotherman’s crew to be as good as Newfoundland, the Railers need to make far fewer mistakes in their own end and take better control of the puck. They’ll need to improve their special teams because the power play at atrocious. It’s currently running at 15%, but that number is misleading because it includes an empty-net goal. The penalty kill is starting to look like it’s working, so we’ll hold off judgment on that for now.

It was apparent just a couple shifts into the game that Worcester wasn’t facing Adirondack again, with Newfoundland being able to counter the Railers easily. But the important thing about the opening twenty minutes was the Railers easily handled what the Growlers threw at them. Their first goal was similar to many they’ve scored this season as the forwards just kept pressing toward the net looking for an opening. Repaci found one, with Nolan Vesey capitalizing.

Just over a minute later that “surge forward” mentality lead to a 2-0 lead when Reece Newkirk stickhandled around McKay and tucked the puck in at the near post.

The second frame was all Newfoundland who outshot the Railers 13-3, which doesn’t include the three times they hit the post in the frame. But the Railers survived the period only allowing a Tyler Boland goal, at 5:54, after Worcester failed to clear their zone three times.

Worcester really picked up the play in the third, but the Growlers grabbed the equalizer when Railers defenseman Myles McGurty threw a big open-ice hit on Michael Joyaux. That left a lane open on the left side, which is exactly where the puck ended up. Brett Budgell buried it at 8:01 to knot it 2-2.

Newfoundland grabbed a 3-2 lead on an unassisted shorthanded goal by Nathan Noel at 13:06 when Noah Delmas failed to keep the puck in the attacking zone and Noel, who was leaving the penalty boxes, was able to grab the puck and skate in on netminder Ken Appleby. Noel lost control of the puck, but with no Railers player even close to him was able to regain the puck and shoot it past Appleby.

That would set up the need for Repachi’s extra-attacker goal, which was scored exactly how you’d draw it up on the whiteboard.

So while the two points were hard-earned, Worcester made it much harder on themselves than it had to be, giving Newfoundland a point in the process. But it also showed the gains the Railers have made on the ice with Smotherman at the helm, and what it will take to be considered one of the top teams in the ECHL. The good news they’re close.

Very close.

Scratches for the Railers were Phil Beaulieu, Connor Breen (IR/undisclosed), Zack Bross (IR/undisclosed), Blake Christensen (lower body), Jacob Hayhurst, Connor McCarthy, and Jack Quinlivan(IR/undisclosed). Henrik Tikkanen was the backup goaltender. A question to the Railers about a potential injury to Christensen didn’t lead to anything official, but he was seen limping around the concourse yesterday, so we’ll go with “lower body”. He seemed to be getting around pretty well, so this might be one of those “if this were the playoffs…” kinds of things. Earlier this week Jacob Hayhurst and Anthony Repaci were returned to the Railers by Springfield, so that made forward Derek Osik, at least for now, a one-and-done player. Osik didn’t look too out of place Sunday against Adirondack, so as long as he stays in shape he might be a nice emergency player to have available.

With it being the first time the two teams have met this season, we’ll take a look at some of the roster connections between Newfoundland and Worcester. Growlers defenseman Tommy Miller spent a post-grad year playing for Northeastern in 2021-22, and forward Brandon Kruse did the same at Boston College. Forward Zach Solow spent four years at Northeastern, captaining the Huskies 2020-21. Newfoundland has a couple of old-timers on their roster. James Melindy played six games for the Portland Pirates against the WorSharks, notching a goal and a plus-one rating. Former Manchester Monarchs (AHL) forward Zach O’Brien appeared in 17 games against the WorSharks, going 4-6-10 with a plus-six rating. There don’t seem to be any Newfie connections on the Worcester roster.

With the win, the Railers extend their winning streak to start the season to six games and continue to improve on their new city pro record. The six-game points streak ties the 2011-12 WorSharks who had points in their first six (4-0-0-2). The six wins in a row match the franchise’s all-time mark. The city pro record is eight, set by the 2014-15 WorSharks from January 4th to the 21st, 2015. The Railers will set a new ECHL record for consecutive wins to start a season with a sweep of Norfolk. Both the 1994-95 Dayton Bombers and 2001-02 Trenton Titans won eight in a row to start their seasons.

Dropping the ceremonial first puck Wednesday night was Worcester Booster Club vice-president Jess Curtin. I mention this only because the notes section is a bit thin for the mid-week game, and she’s as we say in New England, a “wicked cool person”. If you follow any of the Booster Club’s social media channels odds are it’s her posting. This makes newly-appointed Booster Club treasurer Donna Ahaesy the only club officer to not drop the ceremonial first puck for a Worcester pro hockey game. And, yes, I literally keep track of almost everything involving Worcester hockey.

The three stars of the game were:
1. WOR – 21 Collin Adams
2. WOR – 37 Reece Newkirk
3. WOR – 35 Ken Appleby

The 210Sports Player of the Game was Anthony Repaci.

Even Strength Lines
Vesey / Beaudoin / Repaci
Jandric / Coughlin / Butler
Adams / Jenkins / Newkirk
Lambert / x / Ryan

MacKinnon / Evers
McGurty / Delmas
Cosgrove / Brandt

Our affiliates last night (Tuesday)
NY Islanders 3, Chicago 1
Bridgeport 4, Charlotte 3

In the ECHL’s North Divison
No games Wednesday

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

1st Period-1, Worcester, Vesey 2 (Repaci, Beaudoin), 11:01. 2, Worcester, Newkirk 3 (Jenkins), 12:22. Penalties-Solow Nfl (diving/embellishment), 11:56; Jandric Wor (tripping), 11:56; Coughlin Wor (tripping), 14:05.

2nd Period-3, Newfoundland, Boland 5 (Centazzo, O’Brien), 5:54. Penalties-Jandric Wor (holding), 0:58; Lambert Wor (hooking), 13:05; Kokkonen Nfl (interference), 15:50; Repaci Wor (slashing), 17:46.

3rd Period-4, Newfoundland, Budgell 2 (Joyaux), 8:01. 5, Newfoundland, Noel 1 13:06 (SH). 6, Worcester, Repaci 1 (Adams, Beaudoin), 19:12. Penalties-Centazzo Nfl (cross-checking), 0:29; Jandric Wor (tripping), 5:53; Noel Nfl (roughing), 10:54; Martenet Nfl (cross-checking), 12:50.

1st OT Period-7, Worcester, Adams 4 2:50. Penalties-No Penalties

Shots on Goal-Newfoundland 5-13-12-3-33. Worcester 9-3-15-2-29.
Power Play Opportunities-Newfoundland 0 / 5; Worcester 0 / 4.
Goalies-Newfoundland, McKay 3-0-1-0 (29 shots-25 saves). Worcester, Appleby 4-0-0-0 (33 shots-30 saves).
Referees-Austin O’Rourke (10).
Linesmen-Matthew Heinen (93), Stephen Drain (52).

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