This season may have not been the best for both the Islanders and even the Sound Tigers, but one team inside the organization has made the Playoffs. That’s right, the Islanders’ ECHL affiliate, the Worcester Railers made it to the first round of the playoffs in the ECHL only to be eliminated after 6 games vs Adirondack.
Building a Team
The Railers came to Worcester after two years without professional hockey in the city. Worcester is the 2nd most populous city in New England behind Boston. Local hockey fans in Worcester over the years have always been loyal to their teams, whether it was the Ice Cats or the Sharks. In late 2015, it was announced that pro hockey would be returning to Central Mass. The team would be owned by local businessman Cliff Rucker, who is an avid hockey fan.
Many of the teams’ staff worked for the Worcester Sharks, who moved out to San Jose in 2015. Worcester didn’t get an ECHL team back, unlike Manchester, Norfolk and Glens Falls who all did. The club hired Jamie Russell to be the Head Coach/General Manager of the club. In the spring of 2017, it was announced that the Railers would be affiliated with the Islanders and the Sound Tigers, which would be great for both teams as Worcester is only an hour away from Bridgeport.
The team would be named after the impact that railroads have had on the city, as well as the famous Union Station downtown. They would also add an HC at the end to give the team a European feel. The Railers also opened the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center, a new practice facility, with 2 rinks, 2 restaurants, a pro shop, a team shop, over 300 Seating capacity in one rink, and 750 in the other.
Hockey Is Back
The Railers played to a sold-out crowd on October 14th vs the Manchester Monarchs at the DCU Center, bringing back a once intense rivalry dating back to the IceCats. The Railers would win 4-3 off a winner by Yale product Frankie DiChiara. The Railers were led by a multitude of steady minor league vets, including guys like Barry Almeida, a local boy who had a great season two years before with the Utah Grizzlies.
The Railers would also have longtime AHL and ECHL vet Ashton Rome who would be their captain until he was traded in March to Manchester. The Railers also have former Sound Tigers Mike Cornell and Chris Langkow. Woody Hudson and Matty Gaudreau both had strong rookie seasons, as well as Jeff Kubiak, Nick Saracino, Justin Hamonic, tough guy Yanick Turcotte and Sound Tigers Kellen Jones and Josh Holmstrom.
What makes Worcester one of the most exciting teams in the ECHL is the goaltending duo of Islander prospects Mitch Gillam and Eamon McAdam. Gillam led the league with five shutouts and was 4th in the league in Goals Against Average with a 2.15 GAA. Gilly, as he’s called, also earned the ECHL’s Rookie of the Month for March. While Eamon McAdam ranked 16th in GAA with a 2.84 GAA. Fans in Worcester were excited as the season went along. The Railers pushed their way into the playoffs with an incredibly strong last two months. The Railers went 13-5 in March and April to pass the Wheeling Nailers and grab the last spot in the North Division.
Playoff Hockey in Central Mass.
The Railers were pitted against the Adirondack Thunder in the first round. The Railers had done well against them during the season. When asked if he was excited about the playoffs, Jeff Kubiak said; “Yeah, can’t wait. Going to be a lot of fun, I think we have a good team that can make a run.” Game 1 was in Glens Falls and was a tough one for Worcester, with the Thunder winning 3-0.
Game 2 brought the series to Worcester in a weird playoff format that had games 2, and 3 in Worcester. Game 2, which Drive 4 Five covered, was very exciting, and the fans were ready for playoff hockey to return to Worcester. The place was pumped, especially when Woody Hudson put home a rebound past the goaltender to give the Railers the lead, and they would hold it for a win.
Games 3 and 4 would go to the Thunder, but Game 5 was a shootout. Josh Holmstrom would get the Railers on the board first 35 seconds into the game. That didn’t stay for long. 4 unanswered goals by the Thunder put the Railers in a big hole with the season on the line. 3 quick goals before the end of the 2nd would tie the game at 4. At the start of the 3rd, Eamon McAdam got into the game 5 minutes into the 2nd when the Thunder blew the game open. And only 19 seconds into the 3rd, Adirondack had the lead. They would hold it for 3 minutes until Nick Saracino scored his 2nd of the game and we were tied at 5. Saracino would score the winner, his 3rd, on the power play with 6 minutes remaining. And the Railers took game 5 in Glens Falls. Game 6 would be at home, but the Thunder took the game 3-1 and series 4-2.
To conclude, this first season of the Railers was a raging success, not only for the people and fans in Worcester, but the Islanders organization, who had someone fight for a championship and were able to build unknown prospects into big names in the Islanders organization, like Mitch Gillam, and Woody Hudson.
Exciting things happening down on the farm.