By Bill Ballou
WORCESTER – The thing about turning points is that they don’t become obvious until somewhere down the road, often far down the road.
So the Railers won’t know if their 4-2 victory over the Adirondack Thunder here Friday night was a turning point in the season or just a stand-alone terrific game. Either way it was one of Worcester’s best performances of the season, worth two important points versus a divisional opponent.
Those two points were not easy to get.
Adirondack goaltender Jeremy Brodeur, who entered the night with the best goals-against average in the league, was terrific. He stopped 37 of the 40 shots Worcester put on him and many of them were tough ones. Then, after Blade Jenkins broke a 1-1 tie midway through the third period, the Thunder tied it with 2:59 left on a bad-bounce goal off the backboards by Grant Jozefek.
Anthony Repaci put the Railers ahead for good at 19:20, however, and Andrei Bakanov hit an empty net with 15 seconds to go. Riley Piercey had the other Railers goal, his first as a professional. Tristan Ashbrook also scored for the Thunder.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the guys,” coach Jordan Smotherman said. “The only message going into this game was to stay disciplined no matter what happened.”
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Railers. It also snapped a scoring slump for Repaci, who had not gotten a point of any kind in three games since returning from the injured list and did not score on nine shots in Worcester’s last game
His go-ahead goal was unassisted. Repaci sped down the right wing with Jenkins coming down the left side. He used his teammate as a decoy and drilled a wrist shot just inside the far post.
“When you have that many chances,” Repaci said, “you want to see some of them going in. It can feel a little uneasy, but you just can’t let yourself get frustrated. It’s not beneficial for myself or the team.”
The shots on goal totals reflected the nature of the game. The Railers dominated, and to lose — or even go into overtime — would have inflicted some sort of emotional wound. They did not let that happen, though.
“If we go through the 20 games we’ve played this year I think there’s only one game where we had a letdown, and it was out of reach by then anyway,” Smotherman said. “Other than that one moment this team will never let down. This is something we can build on”
Ashbrook gave the Thunder a 1-0 lead at 9:31 of the first period, then Piercey tied it at 19:11. Keeghan Howdeshell flipped a high pass into the low slot from the right wing and Piercey directed it home from knee-high.
“His game has been starting to show itself more and more,” Smotherman said of the 21-year-old. “He’s gaining confidence.”
It was a 1-1 game more than halfway into the third period. Jenkins made it 2-1 at 10:56 with a post-and-in wrist shot from the left circle. Goalie Henrik Tikkanen picked up his second Railers assist on the play as he spotted Jenkins behind the defense and scaled the puck around the boards to him.
The way Brodeur had been playing, Jenkins had to make a perfect shot. He did, then so did Repaci, and the two goals led to two points.
MAKING TRACKS – It didn’t show in the box score but Jake Pivonka’s work on faceoffs was big, especially at the end of the second period and start of the third when Worcester played two men down. … Tikkanen’s assist was the second of his Railers career, his first since the Thunder visited town on April 8th, 2023 of last season in a 6-2 Worcester win … Trevor Cosgrove is the Railers reigning ironman. He has played in 25 straight games going back to last season. He, Jake Pivonka, Ashton Calder and Blade Jenkins are the only Railers to play in all 20 games this season. … The Thunder stay over Friday night and play here again at 7:05 Saturday. … Christian Krygier, Quinn Ryan, Jack Quinlivan, and Anthony Callin all did not dress tonight. … This was the fourth straight Railers game where there was an empty net goal by one team or the other. … Attendance was 1,804. … The teams meet again Saturday night at 7:05.