There weren’t a ton of fans in the house for to watch the Worcester Railers Friday night but those who showed up were rewarded with a night of firsts for the struggling hockey club.
New coach David Cunniff, who was behind the bench on Thanksgiving Eve after replacing former coach Jamie Russell, picked up his first win with the Railers and first in the ECHL. The Railers won their first game in eight tries, snapping a seven-game skid. Goalie Evan Buitenhuis (23 saves) earned his first win at the DCU Center since Jan. 12. Justin Murray notched his first professional point with an assist. And newcomer Dante Salituro registered the first regulation hat trick in Railers history.
It all added up to a much-needed and hard-fought, 6-4 win over the visiting Newfoundland Growlers (12-8-0), who sit well ahead of the last place Railers (5-11-1) in the ECHL North Division.
It was the kind of win that puts smiles on the faces of fans and team executives, which might explain why owner Cliff Rucker and president Mike Myers were on their feet with the rest of the crowd at game’s end, applauding a victory on Country Night at the DCU, which saw the Mychael David Band perform before and during the game.
There was a good vibe all night, although it took a while for the Railers to put a final stamp on this one and mail home the win.
Salituro got things started at 14:59 of the first period on a feed from Jordan Samuels-Thomas on a five-on-three power play, beating Newfoundland goalie Maksim Zhukov (16 saves). The fans were no doubt clapping as much for the fact that the Railers delivered on a power play opportunity as they did for the goal itself. Power plays have been a source of frustration for Worcester this season. The Growlers’ Riley Woods evened things up at 1-1 with less than a minute to go in the opening frame.
Newfoundland jumped on top, 2-1, just 30 seconds into the second frame on a Colt Conrad shot, but the Railers weren’t going quietly. Jordan-Samuels Thomas scored his sixth goal of the season at 4:08 to tie the game, 2-2
The Growlers would go ahead 3-2 a short time later, but Salituro’s second goal of the game tied at 3. Before the second period came to a close, Nic Pierog put the Railers on top 4-3 at 13:14.
In the third, things got mighty rowdy inside the DCU when Ross Olsson blasted the puck by Zhukov for a 5-3 Railers lead. Justin Brazeau pulled Newfoundland within one after the Growlers pulled their goalie, but Salituro’s third goal of the night sealed the 6-4 win for Worcester.
The Railers host the Indy Fuel at 7 p.m. Saturday at the DCU on Nickelodeon Night.