WORCESTER, Mass. – After a regular season that saw the Worcester Railers dominate the Adirondack Thunder with a record of 8-2-2-0, it all came to an end Monday night. In the North Division semifinals, the Thunder had finally found a way to beat the Railers, finishing the series in six games, 4-2. There was one consistent factor from the regular season into the playoffs: the team who scored first won the game when decided in regulation. This was the case once again in Monday night’s contest.
Adirondack’s Paul Rodrigues scored that crucial first goal at 8:27 of the first period. With his teammate Conor Riley in the penalty box for slashing, Rodrigues managed to get past the Worcester defense and put the puck past goaltender Eamon McAdam.
Only 42 seconds later, Barry Almeida tied the game for Worcester. Matt Gaudreau fed Almeida, who fired the puck past the screened Adirondack goaltender, Olivier Mantha.
The Thunder were able to regain the lead with only three seconds remaining in the first period, on what was a controversial goal. Mike Szmatula fed defenseman Desmond Bergin, who fired the puck just under the crossbar. The puck appeared to never cross the goal line, but the officials called it a good goal. With no video replay in the ECHL, the score stood at 2-1.
Neither team scored again until the 19:15 mark of the third period, when Szmatula sealed the victory for Adirondack. Szmatula stole the puck from Worcester’s Gaudreau, and skated in alone to toss it into the empty net.
There were several players from both teams who excelled during the series. Brian Ward led the way for Adirondack with five points; Nick Saracino had five points for Worcester. Three players finished with four points: Rodrigues and Ryan Schmelzer for the Thunder, and Almeida for the Railers. Eight skaters tallied three points apiece. In net, it was Adirondack’s Mackenzie Blackwood who stood out the most. Blackwood went 3-1 in the series with a shutout, and an amazing 1.00 goals-against average and .964 save percentage.
With the win, the Thunder move on to face the Manchester Monarchs in the North Division finals. Adirondack and Manchester were in a fierce battle for first place for much of the regular season. Neither team was able to clinch the division until the final weekend, when the Thunder came out on top. The Monarchs finished the regular season in second place, then went on to sweep the Reading Royals in the semifinals.
During the regular season, Adirondack had some success against Manchester, with an 8-4-1-0 record overall, and 4-2-0-0 at home. Due to scheduling issues, it’s possible there will be no games played at Manchester’s SNHU Arena in this series. The first four games will be played at the Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls. If necessary, games five and six will take place in Manchester, with game seven returning to Glens Falls.