GLENS FALLS, NY – The ECHL playoffs are rapidly approaching, and it is crunch time for several teams. Some are vying for home ice advantage, while others are fighting to keep postseason hopes alive. Two such teams are the Adirondack Thunder and Worcester Railers, who are battling for the final seed in the North Division semifinals.
After facing each other six times in the opening weeks of the 2022-23 season, the rivals didn’t meet up again until late December, then nothing again until the final weeks of the regular season. More than half of the teams’ 17 matches come in the final six weeks.
The Railers began the season with nine straight victories, four of them against the Thunder. Adirondack served Worcester its first loss on Veterans Day, turning the tide in the series, going 7-1-1-1 since then. The Thunder didn’t suffer another regulation loss at the hands of the Railers until March 10.
Worcester’s season took a sharp decline shortly after that Veterans Day loss. December was a particularly rough month for the Railers, who went 4-10-0-0 during that stretch, suffering two five-game losing streaks along the way. The team continued to struggle, going 15-19-3-0 in the new year.
The Thunder have been on a rollercoaster ride for much of the season, winning a couple games, then losing a couple. Adirondack couldn’t even put together a three-game win streak until January 28-February 3.
The new year has been much kinder to the Thunder. In addition to that initial three-game streak, Adirondack also picked up their first victories over the Reading Royals (February 3) and Maine Mariners (February 15). The team has gone 20-11-5-1 in 2023 and has not been below .500 since January 27.
Adirondack has not lost a game in regulation since March 10’s 4-2 loss to Worcester. The Thunder have gone 8-0-2-1 during that span, outscoring their opponents 45-29. The Thunder scored four or more goals in eight of those contests, three or more goals in ten.
They have achieved all this despite having goaltenders on injured reserve (Mareks Mitens, Jake Theut, Vinnie Purpura) and on recall with the Utica Comets of the AHL (Theut, Isaac Poulter, Mike Robinson). In addition, the Thunder have been operating with a mostly new defensive corps; the only healthy defenseman remaining from the opening night roster is Ivan Chukarov. To top it off, one of Adirondack’s top scorers, Xavier Parent, has also been with Utica during that time, and several forwards are on injured reserve. The “fill-ins” have come up big, getting the job done in these crucial games.
The Final Stretch
The Thunder and Railers didn’t meet up in the new year until March 10. It was Adirondack’s first regulation loss to Worcester since October. It also marked the beginning of the final stretch in the season series.
Adirondack won the next three games against Worcester, outscoring the Railers 9-3 and preventing them from getting a single point in the standings.
The teams met again last weekend, with the Railers taking Friday’s game 5-4 in overtime and the Thunder coming out on top 3-1 Saturday. Friday’s contest was an emotional one for both teams, as Worcester’s Andrei Bakanov collided with Adirondack’s Purpura, causing the netminder to go down with a scary-looking injury.
Thunder goaltender Vinnie Purpura was injured and transported to a local hospital. Has movement in his extremities.
Both teams, including coaches and staff, came out to give Purpura a tap as he was stretchered off the ice. pic.twitter.com/WEGRqWwqgC
— Rob Lippolis (@RobLippolis) April 1, 2023
With so many injuries plaguing the Thunder right now, Head Coach Pete MacArthur is emphasizing rest to keep his team in the fight these final two weeks.
“Let these guys recuperate. They’re playing hard as you can see, winning games different ways…I think it’s important for us to rest and recover and be ready to play these next six.”
The teams face off three more times, this Saturday in Worcester, then twice in Glens Falls the final weekend of the season. With the Railers only one point ahead in the standings, it is very possible we won’t know who will capture that final playoff spot until the final game or two.
Adirondack’s Sebastian Vidmar is on a six-game point streak (two goals, six assists). Captain Shane Harper is on a three-game point streak (two goals, four assists) and has points in 12 of his last 15 games (8 goals, 18 assists). Defenseman Ryan Orgel has 13 assists in his last 11 games and was recently named AMI Graphics/ECHL Plus Performer of the Month after posting a +16 rating in March.
Worcester’s Nolan Vesey is on a three-game point streak. Anthony Repaci had a hat trick Friday, including the overtime game-winner. Jacob Hayhurst has points in seven of his last eleven games (four goals, five assists) following a stint with the Springfield Thunderbirds of the AHL.
The Railers (33-31-4-0) host the Mariners (38-25-2-1) Wednesday in their final regular season game against anyone other than the Thunder. The Thunder (29-26-9-2) host the Mariners Friday, then hit the road for their game in Worcester Saturday and their final regular season game in Maine Sunday. They then have a three-in-three to close out the regular season, visiting the Trois-Rivières Lions (27-37-3-0) April 14 and hosting the Railers April 15-16.
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