ST. JOHN’S, NL – The Newfoundland Growlers are fresh off two straight victories against the Adirondack Thunder, with comebacks from two goals behind in both contests. With a short break over the holiday, Newfoundland is set to match with the Worcester Railers, who have struggled as of late.
This series is a tale of two opposites. The Growlers find themselves second place in the Eastern Conference, while Worcester has plummeted to last in the east. With the Railers so close to coming out of the bottom, a win or two could put them past Norfolk.
RAILERS SLOWLY CHUGGING PAST .500
Since David Cunniff took over the role as Worcester head coach near the end of November, the Railers have published a 5-6-0 record. They are fresh off a win in Brampton on December 21, posting a 7-3 win while ending a two-game skid. The coaching change has proved to be a better move for the team, but hasn’t completely solved their problems.
Worcester has a promising glimmer of light to shine through December. One of their newest acquisitions, netminder Ian Milosz, has stopped 62 of 65 shots through his first two games as a professional goalie.
Jordan Samuels-Thomas will be called upon once again for the Railers. Being one of the only regulars who is a point-per-game player, Coach Cunniff will need him to breakthrough. Even though he’s scored 26 points on the season, Samuels-Thomas is sporting a minus-12 on the ice, which should be addressed over the holiday.
As Worcester tops the Newfoundland penalty kill on the season (82.5% vs. 79.4%), the special teams have been able to eliminate any passing play defensively. Additionally, the Railers have scored the most shorthanded goals on the season in the ECHL.
GROWLERS MOVING UP TO THE BIG CLUB
Ahead of the Growlers series against Worcester, they’ll have to do it without defenseman Joseph Duszak, who’s potted 27 points in 26 games this season. Duszak sits third in points among rookies this season (8G + 19A = 27 PTS), and has dominated on special teams with 11 power play points thus far through the 2019-20 campaign.
Additionally, goaltender Maksim Zhukov made his return to the Growlers on Sunday. Zhukov was called up to the Toronto Marlies just days prior, but did not dress for their game against Belleville. In a season that hasn’t been his best, the small sample of the big club could give him a much needed shot of confidence.
Sergei Sapego was also sent back to Newfoundland on Sunday. Like Zhukov, Sapego didn’t hit the ice for the Marlies on Saturday. With an impressive year with Prince Albert (WHL) and a remarkable IIHF resume with Belarus, the small break over the holidays could serve well for Sapego.
On the bright side, one thing to look forward to is the hot play of Growlers backup goaltender Parker Gahagen. Gahagen seems to be sticking around for Newfoundland’s series against Worcester. He most recently played with the SPHL’s Evansville Thunderbolts and was signed by the Growlers earlier in the season. After four games played, he has pushed out a 3-1-0 record, 2.09 GAA, and .930 SVS%.
With both squads having an extended break and many reunited with family over the holidays, it could be the much needed recharge both teams needed, although for differing reasons. Worcester needs to fill the gas tank, and the Growlers key fixtures aren’t finding ground on the ice. For both teams, they’ll have to focus on the the task at-hand and not the success in December or the missing pieces. As my Editor-in-Chief once told me, “It’s hockey — there’s no such thing as an easy weekend.”
The puck drops on Monday, December 30 at 7pm NST while the Tuesday, December 31 game begins at 4pm NST. Both games will be broadcast in ECHL.TV.
WHAT’S COOL ON TWITTER
Today, Growlers own @murphtrevor landed in the Big Land to make a $1,500 donation to the Labrador West Status of Women Council to Sponsor a Mom in need this holiday season.
— Newfoundland Growlers (@NLGrowlers) December 23, 2019
A Newfoundland native, Zack is covering both the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers during the holiday season. Follow him on Twitter, and don’t forget to give a “like” to The Sin Bin on Facebook for all additional AHL, ECHL, and SPHL minor league hockey coverage!