GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – The Adirondack Thunder entered the 2018 Kelly Cup Playoffs as the top seed in the ECHL’s North Division, but almost seemed the underdogs against their first-round opponent, the Worcester Railers.
Worcester spent much of the season in the basement of the division, but hit their stride in late January and never looked back from there. They’ve gone 23-8-1-2 since then, and 37-27-4-4 overall, including an astonishing 8-2-2-0 against Adirondack.
Before the game, the Adirondack Thunder paid their tribute to the victims of the recent Humboldt Broncos bus crash. The team reserved a seat in the stands for each of the 16 who passed away: Brody Hinz, Adam Herold, Stephen Wack, Jaxon Joseph, Logan Boulet, Evan Thomas, Glen Doerksen, Parker Tobin, Darcy Haugan, Mark Cross, Dayna Brons, Tyler Bieber, Logan Schatz, Conner Lukan, Jacob Leicht, and Logan Hunter.
Adirondack would begin the postseason with only 16 skaters, as they lost defenseman Matthew Spencer and forwards Shane Conacher and Troy Bourke to call-ups. Conacher and Bourke combined for 30 goals and 95 total points for the Thunder during the regular season.
To make matters worse, Worcester has goaltender Mitch Gillam, who led the league in shutouts during the regular season. Of the eight victories over the Thunder, six of them belonged to Gillam, a rookie.
Defeating Worcester seemed a daunting task for Adirondack Friday night in the series opener. Like they’ve done so many times in the 2017-18 season, the Thunder overcame their obstacles and found a way to win.
The game started out at a slow pace, with only five shots on goal in the first nine minutes. Adirondack opened the scoring at 8:58 of the first period when rookie forward Tim Harrison tipped in a Dylan Olsen shot while planted in front of the Worcester net.
The second and third periods more closely resembled the regular season games between the two teams. There were 16 infractions called for a total of 44 penalty minutes. With Worcester’s Barry Almeida in the box for roughing, Paul Rodrigues capitalized on Adirondack’s first power play of the night. James Henry took his own roughing penalty immediately following the goal and continued the long line to the penalty box.
Brian Ward proved his versatility to the Adirondack lineup, picking up Adirondack’s third goal at 5:50, then following it up with a fight against Worcester tough guy Yanick Turcotte later in the period.
After stopping all 27 shots he faced, Adirondack goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood recorded his first ECHL shutout. Olsen also had a strong game and picked up two assists on the night.
Game two of the best-of-seven series takes place tonight at 7:05 pm in Worcester.