WORCESTER – With the Worcester Sharks announcing their departure to San Jose almost three years ago, the question always loomed whether an AHL team would ever play in the city again.
Since their departure, there have been two AHL games played in Worcester. After the Sharks were eliminated by the Hershey Bears in their final season, the Bears returned to face the Hartford Wolf Pack in the next round.
Following the Railers affiliation announcement with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Worcester will indeed host an AHL team again, even if it’s just for one night. In tonight’s exhibition matchup, the Sound Tigers will call the Worcester Ice Center home, and will be the biggest event hosted there since opening earlier this month.
The Sound Tigers are no stranger to hosting many past Worcester Hockey players, including former Sharks’ forwards Bracken Kearns and Steve Bernier during last season, and former IceCat Eric Boguniecki behind the bench. Seven Railers players were invited to attend training camp, with six of the seven being returned Friday morning. As of this writing, Patrick McNally is the lone Railers signee remaining on the training camp roster.
In a matinee matchup on Thursday afternoon, the Sound Tigers shutout the Pack with a 2-0 Victory at the XL Center. Bridgeport’s Matt Gaudreau scored put on the breakaway midway through the first, and Railers’ Chris Langkow scored off a deflection from Frankie DiCharia halfway through the second. Proving a strong special teams presence and defense, the Bridgeport secured a win with three five-on-three penalty kills and allowing just 16 shots on goal.
“There were a lot of positives,” Sound Tigers’ Head Coach Brent Thompson said. “That’s going to make our job a lot harder. I was pretty impressed with all the guys. (Yanick) Turcotte, with his energy, his physicality. Look at Matt Gaudreau, stepping in, making little plays. He was strong on the wall. On defense, (Kyle) McKenzie blocked shots, was great on the penalty kill. (Patrick) McNally got up-ice.”
According to CTNews.com’s Michael Fornabaio, Chris Gibson is expected in net for tonight’s rematch.
Although this game is only a preseason game, it serves importance as this is the first time we’ll be seeing Railers players playing in Worcester. Railers’ coaches have been down in Bridgeport this week, keeping an eye on both Railers’ players and prospects assigned to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate. With the roster currently listed at 16, there’s still room for five or six skaters and a goaltender to be assigned or signed to contract for the beginning of the season.
The Puck drops at 7:05 at the Worcester Ice Center. With general admission seating, tickets are just $5. All ticket proceeds will benefit the Worcester Railers Booster Club. Doors will open exclusively to season ticket members at 5:30 pm and 6 pm to the public.
Be sure to follow @WooHockeyNews on Twitter for updates during the game.