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Railers Fall in School Day Game 2-1 to Royals

Wednesday, March 13th
Railers Fall in School Day Game 2-1 to Royals

By Bill Ballou

WORCESTER – The ECHL standings do not included a CTW category — Chance To Win. If they did the Railers might lead the entire league.

Instead, Worcester lives on the edge in the North Division and Wednesday was edged by the Reading Royals, 2-1.

The visitors scored single goals in the first and second periods. The Railers got their’s in the third and as has happened frequently this season, created chances that should have led to more goals but could not capitalize.

Worcester has scored 25 goals in its last 12 games, an average of 2.1 a game.   That it remains in fourth place in the division is a result of strong defensive play and the goaltending of John Muse. That keeps the Railers in the game and in contention but at some point they have to score more.

“It’s not a mystery,” coach Jordan Smotherman said. “We’re not hard enough on our chances. The shots we’re taking — we’re leaning back, we’re not driving them through the net. It’s all on our back foot. It’s on our heels. It’s not on our strong leg.

“It’s the little piece that’s missing.”

Reece Newkirk had the Railers goal. He made it a 2-1 game at 8:04 of the third period with a low 45-foot wrist shot that beat Royals’ goalie Nolan Maier through traffic.

Reading’s goals were scored by Joseph Nardi in the first period and Yvan Mongo in the second.

Maier made 36 saves and was voted the game’s No. 1 star. He was solid through two periods and excellent in the third when Worcester controlled play. His most important stop came early in the third period when he turned back Andrei Bakanov on a clean breakaway at 1:28.

Bakanov came in hard and got off a short backhander. Maier held his ground, forced Bakanov in close and was able to smother the shot. A goal that early in the period could have provided a emotional turning point — not to mention a lot of time — for the Railers.

Worcester was all over Maier in the final five minutes or so and came close to tying it several times. The closest the Railers got was at 19:15 when Newkirk hit the post from just above the goal line on the right side.

With Blade Jenkins in Hartford and Anthony Repaci injured, Newkirk has been a lifesaver. He has four goals in eight games in back-and-forth time between here and Bridgeport.

Artyom Kulakov and Christian Krygier assisted on Newkirk’s goal which came right after Kulakov made an excellent offensive play and tested Maier. Kulakov just turned 21 last month and is the youngest player on Worcester’s active roster. He has gotten better by the week throughout the season and has begun to add some offense to his game.

Kulakov was 0-2-2 through the season’s first 26 matches. He is 4-5-9 in 23 games since then.

Wednesday was Reading’s first game at the DCU Center in more than a year, or since Feb. 11, 2023. The Royals are here again Friday night with a chance to tighten the North Division playoff race a little more.

The Railers had a 37-25 advantage in shots on goal. They have lost two in a row and scored two goals on 68 shots, one on 55 shots in the last four periods.

“It’s a matter of wanting to put the puck through the back of the net instead of just getting it there,” Smotherman said.

That would make all the difference between having a chance to win, and winning.

MAKING TRACKS – Worcester had a goal disallowed at 12:38 of the first period. Zsombor Garat put a shot over Maier’s glove from the right circle but the wave-off was immediate via goalie interference. It was clearly the right call. … Ryan Scarfo, the Railers’ newly acquired forward, is on the way from Savannah so was not in uniform. He is not yet officially on the roster. … Carson MacKinnon made his home-ice debut after playing his first five Worcester games on the road. … The Royals roster featured a Mingo (Dajon) and a Mongo. That is probably a first in hockey history. … Maier had lost five straight starts against the Railers before Wednesday. … Newkirk’s goal was his 33rd as a Railer, tying him with Ross Olsson for fifth on the team’s all-time list. … Worcester was not penalized for just the eighth time in franchise history. Four of those games have been with Reading.


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