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Railers Survive Admirals Comeback in Overtime

Friday, January 12th
Railers Survive Admirals Comeback in Overtime

By Bill Ballou

WORCESTER – These down to the wire — often overtime — games have become almost routine for the Railers and their fans.

Get used to it. Matches like Worcester’s 4-3 OT triumph over the Norfolk Admirals Friday night are going to be standard stuff in the ECHL’s North Division as its seven members battle for playoff position.

The Railers won it on Blade Jenkins’ goal just 1:17 into the fourth period. Jenkins has put pucks on net with a lot more zip than the game-winner but in this case timing was more important than speed. He had the puck about 40 feet out and saw Anthony Repaci engaged in distractive behavior in front of Admirals goalie Thomas Milic and sent it in the general direction of the net.

It looked like sort of a pass-shot. That’s because it was.

“Yeah, it was a little bit of both,” Jenkins said. “(Repaci) was in front, and he did a good job creating some confusion in front of the goalie and he didn’t see it go in.”

Worcester had a 3-2 lead with less than five minutes to play. Norfolk’s Brad Osmundson got the tying goal out of a mad scramble at 15:31 and what looked like a clean two points for the Railers turned into a tense finish and a one-point gain in the standings

“We definitely would rather have closed that one out and won in regulation, especially divisional points like that,” Jenkins said, “but any time you can get two points on a night where we maybe didn’t have our best, that goes to show that good teams find a way to win.”

Jenkins’ goal was his ninth. The Railers’ other three goals were literally a 1-2-3 punch. Artyom Kulakov got his first of the season, Ryan Verrier scored his second and Riley Piercy got his third. Add Zsombar Garat’s assist on Piercey’s goal and it was a good night for the Worcester defense.

Kulakov’s goal was especially critical. It came at 18:04 of the second period and allowed the Railers to head into the third period tied at 2-2 instead of trailing by a goal.

It was his second career goal, first since his professional debut last March 29. The drought lasted 32 games.

Kulakov blasted a 50-foot slap shot from the right boards that found the top left corner after deflecting off a piece of Milic’s equipment.

“It felt good,” Kulakov said. “I had to shoot to the far side because he had the short side all covered. When you put the puck on net, that’s what can happen.”

For those that believe that numbers can have a deeper meaning, Kulakov was assisted by a terrific pass from Anthony Callin, who got the puck from Daylan Kuefler. Their uniform numbers are, in order — 88, 44 and 22.

Norfolk outshot Worcester, 43-32, The Railers’ John Muse and Milic put on a goaltending clinic. The Admirals stormed Muse all night. The Railers did not have as many shots, but after they took a 3-2 lead on Piercey’s deflection at 1:39 of the third period, they had some great chances to pad it.

Milic stopped clean breakaways by Jake Pivonka at 9:50 and Repaci at 13:20. He turned away Verrier from the slot with a fine skate stop at 17:40.

Muse has been stellar since joining the team the last week of 2023. He has made five starts and Worcester is 4-1 in them. His goals-against average is 2.15, his saves percentage .934. The other Railers goalies’ combined numbers are 11-13-4, 3.15, .899.

Verrier scored on a 35-foot slap shot at 3:25 of the first period to put Worcester head but Aaron Miller tied it for Norfolk at 11:47 and Denis Smirnov made it 2-1 at 19:13. It was either a one-goal game or tied until it finally ended.

“It’s going to be like this the rest of the way,” coach Jordan Smotherman said. “Everybody’s gonna play each other the rest of the year. Every point we give up, and every point we manage to get, makes a difference. We’ve seen it the last two years. One goal, one point.”

Worcester has a chance to carry some momentum from this victory into Saturday night when it plays Norfolk on IceCats Night. A big, noisy crowd is expected to be on hand remembering the city’s first pro team. Former IceCats Shaun Kane, Shawn Heaphy and Jason Zent are expected to be in the building.

MAKING TRACKS – History was nearly made when Milic took a hard shot by Jake Pivonka off the mask halfway through the second period. The goalie went down hard and had to be attended to at the bench. His backup began stretching, and that EBUG was a female, Mariah Fujimagari, who lives in the area and played for the Worcester Blades in 2018-19. She went to training camp with Kalamazoo last fall and has practiced with the Railers this season on occasion. No woman has ever played in a regulation pro game at the DCU Center. Milic was able to resume play. According to ECHL rules, emergency backups can only play if the starting goaltender can not return to action. … It is that time of year with players coming and going. Pivonka is back from Bridgeport. Goalie Kaden Fulcher has been released, as has Quinn Ryan. Worcester has signed forward Brian Bowen and defenseman Ryan Dickinson but neither played Friday night. … The Railers failed to score a power play goal, but there was a reason for that. They did not have a power play. It was the second time this season, 10th time ever. Worcester is 6-3-1 in those games. … The Railers improved to 27-16-3 all-time in the first game of a 3 in 3 weekend.

#RailersHC

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