By Bill Ballou (Worcester Railers) –
The Worcester Railers took down the Trios-Rivieres Lions to wrap up their home three-in-three weekend against three different teams within the ECHL’s North Division.
The triumph was Worcester’s first regulation victory in more than a month, or since last Dec. 18, and it was a big one both emotionally and mathematically.
The Railers are in fourth place, the Lions in fifth. Worcester was able to extend its lead over Trois-Rivieres to 13 points.
The home team got goals from two players who were not on the opening day roster, Nick Fea and Billy Jerry, as well as from familiar face Blake Christensen. Jerry had an assist as well and was plus-3. Brent Beaudoin had two helpers, and Quin Ryan and Collin Adams had one apiece.
Ryan and Fea are the Railers’ most productive forwards at present. Ryan is 1-5-6 in his last six games. Fea is 3-2-5 in his six games with Worcester after being summoned from Birmingham of the SPHL.
Fea has a little Jacob Hayhurst in him, the kind of speed and quickness Worcester has needed in recent weeks. Fea looks like a long-term contributor, not just some up-and-down insurance player.
“Absolutely,” coach Jordan Smotherman said of the rookie. “He’s shifty, and obviously he works well with Quin Ryan. That line in general does a really great job of reading where the puck is gonna go.”
Tikkanen stopped 36 of 38 shots. As the game wore on, and the Railers’ legs got a little rubbery, Tikkanen was at his best.
“He was exactly what we needed,” Smotherman said. “He made some huge saves, especially near the end.”
Fea’s goal 46 seconds after the opening faceoff was the earliest one of the season for the Railers and a pretty one. Ryan found Fea speeding down the left wing and set him up nicely. Fea finished the play with a high wrist shot from about 20 feet out to beat Joe Vrbetic.
Worcester took a 2-0 lead a little more than a minute later on Jerry’s second goal of the year, this one coming at 2:05. Brent Beaudoin sent a pass around the boards to Christian Evers at the left point and Evers delivered a hard slap shot from 55 feet away that Jerry redirected from the top of the crease.
The Railers had a 16-11 edge in shots on goal in the first period. That was reversed in the second period as the Lions closed their deficit to one goal.
D-Jay Jerome made it a 2-1 game at 10:02. Trois-Rivieres won a faceoff cleanly in the right circle and two passes later Jerome had an open net from just ouside the left post.
Worcester regained its two-goal lead at 14:31 with Christensen scoring his seventh of the year. Jerry snapped a shot on net from the right circle and Christensen went to the net to flip home the rebound.
Cedric Montminy provided a potential “oh, no, not again” moment when he cut the Worcester lead to 3-2 with a goal nine seconds from the end of the period. The Railers had to kill two penalties and survive a pulled-goalie ending in the third period to hang on for the victory.
They did, and Tikkanen was a big reason for that.
MAKING TRACKS – The homestand continues with a game versus Reading at the DCU Center Friday, and then the teams play at Reading on Saturday. The Railers are overdue to beat the Royals, who have beaten Worcester nine straight times with two of the victories coming in overtime. … Nice to see ex-IceCat Pascal Rheaume back in the city as an assistant coach with the Lions. It is his second season on the job up there; Rheaume is one of the former Worcester players with his name on the Stanley Cup. … It was a matchup of young rookie goalies. Tikkanen is 22, Vrbetic just 20. … Connor McCarthy was back in the lineup, Artur Terchiyev out. Jerry was in, Zach Bross out up front. … Worcester has improved its penalty killing dramatically. The Railers were a perfect 13 for 13 for the weekend and are 19 for 20 in the last five games. … Evers was called for a closing-the-hand penalty, making it two straight games with one of those rare penalties for the Railers.