By Bill Ballou
WORCESTER – This was what could be called a legacy game, one of those rare events that can’t be created or predicted, only enjoyed.
The Railers beat the Norfolk Admirals, 4-2, on a Saturday night that nobody in the crowd of 7,094 will ever forget. It was a comeback victory on IceCats Night, Worcester’s first pro team remembered fondly with the Railers wearing retro uniforms and their name on the scoreboard replaced by “IceCats.”
How appropriate is this? The game-tying goal was scored by Anthony Repaci, his 61st in a Railers uniform. That broke the previous mark of 60 held by Barry Almeida and him.
Worcester could have made things a lot easier on its way to the victory, but that’s not the Railers way. It made the night even more precious for their fans. They were down, 2-0, after 40 minutes, two periods of play where they were so underwater they should have been issued snorkels for the third period.
Then Jake Pivonka scored at 1:42 of that third period to make it 2-1. At that point, the crowd started to believe and so did the Railers. Repaci made it 2-2 at 4:00 with a high wrist shot from the left circle, then Connor Welsh got the winner at 6:49.
Anthony Callin’s empty-netter came at 19:27.
“These guys just hate to lose,” was coach Jordan Smotherman’s take on yet another Worcester comeback.
The way Norfolk dominated the first half of the game, losing seemed like a distinct possibility. Danny Katic and Keegan Iverson scored just 76 seconds apart late in the first period and the Admirals carried play well into the second.
“I told them I hate that they treat hockey like it’s a light switch,” is how Smotherman described his post-game remarks, “but they’ve been able to do it. Tonight, for me, it was a combination of a few guys. It was Keeghan Howdeshell, it was Jack Quinlivan, it was Andrei Bakanov coming out sort of early to mid-second period and saying, ‘We’re gonna own these guys.’
“They brought out their physical game and threw some hits that really got the bench going.”
Railers goaltender John Muse stopped 24 of 26 shots to improve to 5-1-0 in a Worcester uniform. He kept the game winnable for the Railers at times when Norfolk dominated play.
Repaci’s goal brought a huge response from the crowd. While he is the Railers’ all-time leader, he is also moving up on the goals list for all three Worcester teams. His 61 are tied with Stephane Roy of the IceCats for seventh all-time.
“It really was very special,” Repaci said. “I love it here, been playing here for three years and the fans have been nothing but great to me. I’m really proud of the group for coming back. We’re making a habit of being down by a couple of goals and coming back in the third, so we’ve got to change a few things.”
Not only did the Railers bring back IceCats uniforms, Scratch, etc, they had some very familiar faces at the game. They included original IceCats Shawn Heaphy and Shaun Kane — Sean Whyte is thought to be out west — Jason Zent and equipment manager Mark Puleo.
The raucous crowd saw a lot of hitting and a lot of scoring, even if it was late, and anyone who was not a hockey fan before they got to the rink is one now.
That crowd was the largest of the season and the 11th best in franchise history. The Railers like playing in front of a lot of people. Saturday night improved their record to 9-3-1 with at least 7,000 bodies in the seats.
MAKING TRACKS – Blade Jenkins was signed to a pro tryout by Hartford of the AHL so did not play. Jenkins is 3-9-12 in his last 12 Railers games. … Quinlivan returned to action after missing 21 games with an injury. It was just his fourth game of the season, first since Nov. 17, and he didn’t show any rust. … Nick Pennucci was released but will likely be back as the season goes along. … The series concludes with another Worcester-Norfolk game at 3:05 Sunday afternoon. … Norfolk used Kristian Stead in goal, giving Thomas Milic a rest after he took a hard shot to the mask Friday night. … Brian Bowen played and became the 10th player to have come back to Worcester after playing for a different organization. He is the third this season, joining Ryan Verrier and Ross Olsson. … A nod to veteran off-ice officials Arthur Sachse and Peter Glanville, both of whom were on duty on Oct. 1, 1994 for the first IceCats game ever at what was then the Centrum. … One of the night’s most spectacular collisions was between linesmen Benjamin Lord and Michael Tarquinio. They both lost an edge heading towards an altercation in the second period and wound entangled after similar slides. … It was a great special teams game for the Railers. They were 1 for 3 on power plays and killed all three Admirals power plays. … The victory moved Worcester above .500 as a franchise. The Railers are 172-171-39.