WORCESTER— Fighting adversity is a staple for every hockey player in the (ECHL) but fighting a three-goal deficit against the top team in the Central Division with one of the top goalies in the league— well that’s a highly pessimistic scenario for most.
The Worcester Railers (21-20-4-3, 49 points) 4-3 overtime loss to the Cinncinati Cyclones (32-9-3-3 70 points) on Sunday afternoon, may have sparked the local club for the rest of the season in more ways than one.
Worcester Railers’ head coach and general manager Jamie Russell, is not feeling discouraged after he watched his team erase a three-goal deficit, scoring at least two goals after trailing in the third period, for the second time in three days.
“It’s not a script you want to follow, when you are playing three games in two and half days,” Russell said. “Chasing the game down 2-0 [in the first period] our guys dug deep and showed a lot of character and that’s a huge point (in the standings) against a really good hockey team.”
Less than two minutes into the game on a delayed penalty, Cyclones forward Vasili Glotov glided thru the zone to beat Railer’s goalie Evan Buitenhuis (34 saves).
Then at 14:33 of the first period, Myles Powell parked in the slot, and fired a one-timer into the back of the net to give Cinncinati a quick 2-0 advantage.
After the Railers were able to kill two penalties, Worcester’s David Quenneville circled behind the Cyclones net and deked Cinncinati’s 6’4” goalie, Jonas Johansson. Quenneville glided untouched into the slot, yet his point-blank shot was somehow swallowed up by the Cyclones netminder.
“We’ve been a team that has been reluctant to shoot and get pucks to the net,” Russell said, “but we stuck with it.”
The Railers also missed on a 51-second five-on-three opportunity to open the second period, registering only one shot during the power play.
Buitenhuis was unfortunate as he lost his stick alongside the net, resulting in a Cyclone pass across the crease that Mitch Jones easily finished off for a 3-0 Cinncinati lead with 13:10 remaining in the period.
Worcester then had to watch their defenseman, Connor Doherty, go down as he took a puck underneath his left eye, while defending the net in front of Buitenhuis.
The Railers had apparently seen enough at that point.
Worcester’s Ryan Hitchcock (1 goal,1 assist) would skate into the slot and catch Johansson on the far side, with a wrister, getting the Railers on the board.
The goal was Hitchcock’s 8th on the year, to make it 3-1.
The Railers opened the third period, attacking Johansson from every angle.
Nick Sorkin missed going top shelf in the slot, while Matty Gaudreau skated in and missed a point-blank shot.
One of Worcester’s best opportunities to start the third was when Tyler Barnes sent a pass in front of the crease, that Ivan Kosorenkov broke his stick on, trying to slam the puck home.
Barnes, however would find the net for a Worcester pro hockey record seventh straight game and 20th on the season, as he finished off a Hitchcock pass in the slot to cut the deficit to 3-2.
“There’s a lot of history in Worcester with the Ice Cats and the Worcester Sharks, and to set that record — (Barnes) is a guy that has produced all year for us, and he is really heating up at the right time,” Russell said.
The Railer’s character was culminated when Worcester’s Nick Sorkin skated into the high slot and snapped off a wrister that somehow got through Johansson’s pads and trickled just beyond the goal line for the tying goal with 4:14 left in the game.
“We really dug deep and stuck with it, and I thought it was a real gritty character effort by our guys tonight,” Russell said.
Worcester needed a big save from Buitenhuis, as he turned away a Cyclone breakaway with 3:04 remaining to garner the point for the Railers as both teams headed to overtime.
“[That save] really sticks out for me,” Russell said. “We have a great chance where we get one off the post and then its right there and transitions and goes the other way for the breakaway— but that save gave us a chance and gave us momentum with a big lift on the bench.”
Worcester was forced to kill Cinncinati’s fourth power play on the night, in the final thirty seconds of regulation and a four-on-three to start overtime.
The Railer’s best opportunity in the extra time was when defenseman Ryan MacKinnon skated in from the blue line, and just missed the far post on Johansson.
The Cyclones’ Brady Vail would end the night, as he took a pass in the high slot and fired a blast past Buitenhuis with 2:21 left in the overtime, for the 4-3 final.
The sixth-place Railers who trail the fourth place Brampton Beast by only three points for the final playoff spot in the North Division, now must begin a seven-game road that keeps Worcester off their home ice until March 3rd.
“We head down south but we’ve been playing really good hockey on the road,” Russell said, “and hopefully this game says a lot about our character.”