By Bill Ballou
WORCESTER – The Railers returned home Friday night from the best road weekend in team history and rewarded their fans with 55 minutes of dreadful hockey.
It is worth noting, though, that they won the game, beating the Trois-Rivieres Lions, 5-4. Worcester scored two goals in the final 4:19 of regulation to send a 4-4 game into overtime, then got the extra point in a shootout.
The Railers extended their points streak to seven games. They are 6-0-1 in that span.
Keeghan Howdeshell scored the shootout winner for the Railers with Ashton Carter getting a goal, too.
“We didn’t play well the whole night,” coach Jordan Smotherman said, “but that’s one of the positive things about this group. They’re never down and out. We’ve been resilient all year and that continued tonight.
“But we had no energy. There is no excuse for that, no way we should ever be outworked and outplayed. In my mind, we got lucky.”
It was a memorable night in more ways than the final score and how it was achieved.
The game marked the professional debut of Worcester native and longtime DCU Center season ticket holder Nick Pennucci, the first Worcester State product to play a pro game in the city. Also, one of the Railers’ goal scorers was Anthony Repaci. When he scored late in the second period, the goal was the 60th of his Railers career. That tied him with Barry Almeida for the franchise lead in goals.
Joey Cipollone, Brendan Robbins and Andrei Bakanov had the other Worcester goals. Matthew Boucher scored twice for Trois-Rivieres while Chris Ortiz and Alex-Olivier Voyer had the others.
For all that happened, two things were major factors in the Railers getting two points instead of none, or one.
Bakonov scored with goalie John Muse on the bench with 50 seconds left in the third period. The season is not half over and Worcester has already scored five extra-attacker goals.
Then, with 50 seconds left in what was a fabulous overtime period, Worcester goalie John Muse made what is probably the Railers’ save of the year. He sprawled to turn aside probably Jakov Novak, who momentarily had an open net to finish off a 2 on 1 break.
One of those TV success-percentage things would have given Muse about a one percent chance to make that stop.
Bakanov’s goal snapped an eight-game drought for him. He found some space out 12 feet out in front of Lions’ goalie Joe Vrbetic and beat him with a quick snap shot.
“He did what we’ve been wanting him to do all year,” Smotherman said. “Just shoot the puck when it hits his stick. Earlier in the game he had a chance to one-time one, he held onto it and it got blocked. He came back to the bench and we told him, as soon as it touches your stick you’ve got to shoot it and that was the result.”
“It was a very big for myself,” Bakanov said, “and obviously for the team. It was an effort by six guys overall and I appreciate every one of them. It was a total team effort to get that.”
Worcester has earned five points it would not have gotten otherwise this season by scoring with the goaltender pulled.
“It’s a sense of urgency for everybody,” Bakanov said, “and everybody knows that it’s a big time moment and we just try to push the gas and put everything on it.”
Voyer’s goal at 14:37 of the third period seemed to doom Worcester’s chances for another miracle comeback but Robbins kept the Railers hopes alive with a nifty goal just 1:04 later.
Cipollone made it 1-0 at 9:31 of the first period, scoring a power play goal on Worcester’s first shot of the game. He re-directed a pass by Zach White.
Boucher scored twice in the first 10 minutes of the second period to give the Lions the lead, then Repaci tied the game, and Almeida, at 14:48.
“The win is the most important thing,” Repaci said. “We had a tough start to the season but now things are rolling and we want to continue the momentum. Obviously it’s great to tie Almeida but that win was huge for us.”
And, until the last few minutes of the third period, totally unexpected.
MAKING TRACKS – The Railers have signed all-time favorite Ross Olsson, who began the season in retirement and coaching at the Hillside School in Marlboro. Olsson played 99 games and scored 33 goals, many of them on the power play, before being traded to Orlando late in the 2021-22 season. Olsson played for Orlando last year and scored 28 goals. … Christian Krygier, Quinn Ryan, Todd Goehring and Jack Quinlivan all did not play as well as injured goalie Tristan Lennox. …Kaden Fulcher served as Muse’s backup. He beat the Railer, 4-2, last Feb. 11 while with Reading. This is the first time the Railers have had two goalies in uniform who have both played for and against them. … Pennucci wore Number 7. He is just the third Railer to have it. Tyler Barnes and Liam Coughlin preceded him. … The Lions and Railers play again here Saturday at 7:05 p.m. … The crowd of 2,812 was a boisterous one on Autism Acceptance Night. … The triumph improved the Railers’ all-time record to 170-169-39