WORCESTER, Mass. – With the month of July halfway in the books, the Worcester Railers have taken no time to secure a handful of players for the upcoming season. With head coach Jamie Russell and assistant head coach Derek Army returning for the team’s third season, fans can expect a lot of familiar faces returning in October.
To date, the Railers have announced the signings of six skaters, including veteran forward Barry Almeida and defensemen Connor Doherty and Kyle McKenzie. Almeida, the Worcester Railers’ all-time leader in games played (140), goals (44), assists (69), and points (113), will continue to impact Worcester on a leadership level and will continue to produce offensively. McKenzie is looking to bounce back after an upper-body injury cut his season short. Local product Doherty will look to get a chance at the AHL after signing a PTO with the Utica Comets late last season.
Now-retired real estate agent Bobby Shea was the first new player to sign with Worcester this off-season. With some real estate experience in his back pocket last season, the veteran defensemen returns to the ice for his sixth pro season with 450 penalty minutes and 211 ECHL regular season on his resume. Shea will add some size and a physical presence to Worcester’s blue line this upcoming October. Shea’s 211 regular season games included stops with Reading, Toledo, South Carolina, and more recently Fort Wayne during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. Alongside Barry Almeida, Shea won a Kelly Cup with the Reading Royals in 2013 to kick-off his career.
Rookies Drew Callin and Ross Olsson will return for their first full pro seasons after joining the Railers late last year. Both players had big first games, with Drew Callin scoring his professional goal against Manchester on March 23, and Ross Olsson picking up a goal and his first pro fight against Norfolk on March 9.
Up in Bridgeport, Worcester Hockey alum Steve Bernier, Mike Cornell, Jeff Kubiak, Yanick Turcotte, Ryan MacKinnon, and Ryan Hitchcock have all signed for next season. While Kubiak and Bernier being assigned is a stretch, Cornell, Turcotte, MacKinnon and Hitchcock could reprise their roles in 2019-20. In a tweet earlier this summer, Yanick Turcotte announced his contract was a two-year deal. Bridgeport isn’t expected to have as many contracts as last season, so these guys will be seeing a few more call-ups in 2019-20. Evan Buitenhuis, Hitchcock, David Quenneville, and Turcotte all attended the Islanders’ summer development camp late last month.
Another significant signing in Bridgeport is that of former Manchester Monarchs forward Nic Pierog. Pierog was a Railers’ killer last season with 16 points in 12 games against Worcester. Aside from his successes against Worcester, he led all ECHL rookies with 32 goals in 68 games. The early expectation is that Pierog could start the season in Worcester with a few recalls to the ‘port throughout the season. A top forward line consisting of Pierog, Hitchcock, and Almeida could prove to be the Railers’ fighting force for this upcoming season.
Buitenhuis, Tommy Panico, Tommy Kelley, and Matt Schmalz all received qualifying offers by the June 30 deadline, so their ECHL rights will stay with the Railers for the 2019-20 season unless a deal is made to move those rights or to sign these players. With Buitenhuis on the Islanders’ radar after attending consecutive summer development camps in 2018 and now in 2019, all signs point towards him being signed within the Islanders affiliation tree.
The Railers’ signing spree will continue with more announcements in the coming weeks. Keep track of all the signings and movement during the 2019 ECHL offseason by visiting our ECHL Transactions page!
Follow Dylan Schofield on Twitter (@WooHockeyNews) for the latest on all things Worcester Railers hockey.