The Worcester Railers hosted the ECHL’s South Division leading Florida Everblades Sunday afternoon at the DCU Center, and the 4,754 in attendance knew it was going to be a much tougher test than the lowly Quad City Mallards had been in Worcester’s two previous games.
The opening period saw huge stretches of play without a whistle, and the Railers were skating stride for stride with the powerful Everblades through most of it. Worcester had the two best chances early, both by Chris Langkow.
Unfortunately he couldn’t bury either of them, once missing a yawning empty net by hitting the crossbar and then just shooting inches wide from the slot on a rebound attempt.
As has been the case this season a borderline penalty came back to haunt the Railers, and with Ben Masella off for hooking Florida needed just 12 seconds of power play time to take the lead when defenseman Matt MacKenzie ripped a laser from the blue line and past Worcester goaltender Mitch Gillam at 16:13 of the first to make it 1-0. Clark Seymore and Steven Lorentz had the assists for the Everblades.
The second stanza was a lot like the first, with long periods of continuous play without a whistle. The advantage in play swung back and forth, and on one of those occasions where Worcester was in control the Railers tied the game.
Worcester held the puck along the perimeter of the Everblades zone for a long while, with Florida goaltender Callum Booth making saves on the handful of attempts on goal. Frankie DiChiara would finally beat Booth when he fired a loose puck from the left wing boards through a screen and in at 8:59. Vinny Muto and Jeff Kubiak had the assists.
A great defensive play a few moments later by Nick Saracino helped keep the game tied as each side continued the end to end play, but another Achilles heel of the Railers would rear its head when on the power play forward Matty Gaudreau had to defend a two on one rush. As Florida’s Justin Kea and John McCarron broke in shorthanded Kea waited for Gaudreau to commit to who he would defend, and when it was the puck carrier Kea calmly slid the puck over to McCarron for the 2-1 Everblades lead at 15:43.
On paper things didn’t look very good for the Railers entering the third period as Florida was an amazing 17-0-1 when leading after two and the Railers had won just once in 17 tries when trailing after 40 minutes. But hockey isn’t played on paper, it’s played on ice. And on this day Worcester would not be denied.
The Railers continued to generate good chances, and on a break in that looked like the Everblades had defended well Langkow was able to get the puck back to Muto streaking into the zone. Langkow’s pass was right on the tape of Muto’s stick, and the defenseman wasted no time in firing one past Booth on the stick side to tie it at 3:34. Barry Almeida had the secondary assist on Muto’s first ever ECHL goal.
The cheering for Muto’s goal was some of the loudest this season, but Jeff Kubiak got the crowd even louder when he collected a Muto clearing bid and raced down the left wing side. From the left circle he fired a bullet over Booth’s glove at 6:12 to give Worcester a 3-2 lead. Gilliam had the secondary assist, his second of the season.
Florida had many chances to tie the game, including a power play mid-way through the period, but the Railers defense stood tall throughout the rest of the game. Gillam made several big saves in the final few minutes, but the biggest save of the game might go uncredited as an unidentified Railers player batted the puck out of midair with under 10 seconds to go to help seal the 3-2 victory.
Worcester’s 11 game home stand continues next Friday with a contest against the Adirondack Thunder.
Scratches for the Railers were Brain Bowen, Sean Gammage, Tommy Kelley, Josh Monk (21-day IR/upper body), Aston Rome (upper body). Eamon McAdam was the back-up goaltender. Bowen was a scratch because the Railers didn’t want him playing three games in three days yet.
As the AHL began in their all-star break after Saturday’s games there was some whispers of Kellen Jones and/or Mike Cornell returning to Worcester for Sunday’s game, but with the Railers at the maximum 20 active players and two on reserve the only way to add a player would be to cut one or add a player to the 21-day IR list. Neither option would work well for Worcester, so neither player was sent down.
With the game against Florida, the Railers have now played each of the ECHL’s current division leaders: Manchester in the North, the Everblades in the South, Toledo in the Central, and Colorado in the Mountain. Worcester is currently the only team to play every division leader. Presuming the leaders stay the same until February 25th the Greenville Swamp Rabbits will also accomplish the feat when they visit the Toledo Walleye.
Sunday marked the return of former Worcester Sharks defenseman Gus Young to the DCU Center. Young is the scoring leader among defenseman for Florida, entering the game against the Railers with four goals and 24 assists. Young has also spent five games with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda. Young is not the only connection between Worcester and the Everblades as defenseman Vinny Muto played two games for Florida before being released and signed by the Railers.
Eagle-eyed reader Stan Hosmer noticed that yesterday’s post was missing a mention of Derek Armstrong in the common names section for the Mallards and Worcester pro hockey. Armstrong played 56 games for the IceCats during the 1995-96 season, scoring 26 points on 11 goals and 15 assists.
With 3:05 remaining in the first period the Daktronics video board froze and stopped keeping time. The scoreboards at the ends of the seating area were working fine so there was no interruption in play. It took until early in the second period for the issue to be fixed.
The three stars of the game were
1) Vinny Muto (Railers #42), goal, 2 assists
2) Jeff Kubiak (Railers #16), goal, assist
3) Mitch Gillam (Railers #35) win, 28 saves.
The TWIW Player of the Game was Frankie DiChiara
Even Strength Lines
Florida 1 1 0 – 2
Worcester 0 1 2 – 3
1st Period-1, Florida, Mackenzie 4 (Seymour, Lorentz), 16:13 (PP). Penalties-MacAulay Fla (cross-checking), 12:25; Masella Wor (hooking), 16:01.
2nd Period-2, Worcester, DiChiara 5 (Muto, Kubiak), 8:59. 3, Florida, McCarron 14 (Kea), 15:43 (SH). Penalties-Mackenzie Fla (high-sticking), 14:43.
3rd Period-4, Worcester, Muto 1 (Langkow, Almeida), 3:34. 5, Worcester, Kubiak 5 (Muto, Gillam), 6:12. Penalties-Kubiak Wor (high-sticking), 9:27.
Shots on Goal-Florida 11-12-7-30. Worcester 10-13-8-31.
Power Play Opportunities-Florida 1 / 2; Worcester 0 / 2.
Goalies-Florida, Booth 13-5-1-2 (31 shots-28 saves). Worcester, Gillam 8-9-0-0 (30 shots-28 saves).
Referees-Sean Fernandez (21).
Linesmen-Kyle Richtelle (73), William Kingdon (58).