By Bill Ballou
WORCESTER – There is no way to put a number on how much the Railers missed Quinn Ryan’s speed and goal-scoring ability during his 13-game injury absence.
Wednesday night, though, the math was easy.
Ryan’s goal at 4:34 of overtime gave Worcester a 5-4 victory over the Maine Mariners, extending the Railers winning streak to three games. That is their longest of the season.
He converted a superb pass from Connor Welsh and beat Maine goaltender Brad Arvanitis from the bottom of the left circle. The goal allowed Worcester to emerge with two points that could easily have slipped away. The Railers outshot Maine, 43-23, and squandered a lead that was 4-2 with five minutes left in the second period.
“It’s been a long time coming but it was good to be out there again,” Ryan said. “There was definitely an adjustment period, but I felt good.”
The teams traded scoring flurries in OT, as is usually the case, and Ryan’s goal came at the end of intense attack. He credited Welsh with setting up the chance.
“It couldn’t have been a better pass,” Ryan said. “It was all the pass. I didn’t have to adjust at all.”
As comfortable as the new DCU Center seats are, the noisy crowd of 4,427 spent a lot of time at the edge of them or on their feet. It was that kind of game, the kind of wide-open match the Railers and Mariners often play.
Maine led, 2-1, after one period. Worcester scored three straight in the second to go up, 4-2, but the Mariners made it 4-3 at 15:32 of the second period and 4-4 at 8:08 of the third.
The next goal was Ryan’s.
Ashton Calder had two goals for the Railers. Anthony Repaci, Daylan Kuefler and Ryan had the others. Calder added an assist. Anthony Callin had two of them including one on the overtime goal.
Jimmy Lambert scored twice for Maine. Alex Kile and Reid Stefanson had the other Mariners goals. Lambert was 2-1-3 and is in the process of joining the likes of Frankie DiChiara, Max Newton and Grant Jozefek as ex-Railers who are unstoppable when the play their former team.
Last year it was Collin Adams with the speed that helped Worcester thrive in overtime. Now that Ryan is back, perhaps he can step into that role.
“It made everybody feel great to see that,” coach Jordan Smotherman said of Ryan’s goal, “especially since I tried to manage him a little bit in that third period after coming back from such a long break. He kind of came off the bench cold in that situation and got two great scoring chances.”
Lambert put Maine ahead at 3:40 of the first period. In three games against Worcester this season the Mariners have scored at 2:27, 2:38 and 3:40 into the game.
Repaci scored at 5:51 on a baseball swing off a rebound. Kile made it 2-1 at 11:30. Calder tied it 31 seconds into the second period then put his team ahead at 8:38 with a shorthanded breakaway goal.
It was his second of the season and the Railers’ first since Nov. 4.
Kuefler scored on a power play at 14:15 and Worcester seemed ready to take control of things but the Mariners responded well. That set the stage for Ryan.
Worcester was without Trevor Cosgrove and Jake Pivonka. They are the first Bridgeport recalls of the season. Cosgrove has been one of Worcester’s best offensively skilled defensemen Pivonka had one of his best games of the year last Saturday. He is also the Railers’ best face-off man.
This was Worcester’s final home game of 2023. They play a three-in-three at Reading in the upcoming weekend. The series should have a sizable impact on the North Division standings for both the immediate and long term future.
Worcester has not played well at Reading through the years. The Railers are just 9-17-2 there all-time. That includes 2-8-2 in the last 12 games, one of them a 5-2 defeat this past Dec. 15.
MAKING TRACKS – Henrik Tikkanen is 4-1-0 in his last five starts. He made 19 saves Wednesday. Arvanitis made 38 saves for Maine. … Repaci has scored six goals in his last seven games including Wednesday. That goal almost didn’t happen as he was sick for most of the day and was a late addition to the lineup. He is two goals away from tying Barry Almeida for the most in team history. Almeida had 60. … Ryan Verrier had another assist, giving him four in the last five games. … Zach White’s assist snapped a seven-game pointless streak. … Calder is 3-4-7 in the last three games. … Callin was plus-3 and is plus-5 in the last three games. The Railers were 14-16-6 at the DCU Center in 2023. … Defenseman John Copeland is still looking for his first pro goal but almost had one in the first period. His wrist shot hit the inside of the right post but bounced in a straight line back towards him, not in. … With Calder scoring two goals, Worcester is 72-16-8 (.792) all-time when one of its players has a multi-goal game. … ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin picked a good time to visit the DCU Center. He saw one of the season’s best games to date. … Artyom Kulakov’s assist was his first point since Nov. 17, a drought of 13 games.