As the leaves begin to turn and the air becomes crisp, the Worcester Railers Hockey Club are warming up the boilers for yet another season!
Following in the footsteps of former Worcester hockey franchises like the Worcester Ice Cats (1994-2005) and the Worcester Sharks (2006-2015), the Railers look to continue their dual mission of developing young professional hockey players while also entertaining the Worcester community on and off the ice.
The Railers will begin their quest for the Kelly Cup against the Adirondack Thunder on October 21st, at 7:05PM in a newly renovated DCU Center. The arena received a number of upgrades during the off-season, including the replacement of nearly all of its 15,000 seats.
Now in their sixth season, the Railers Hockey Club continue to play in the third tier ECHL as an affiliate of the New York Islanders.
Butler Departs, But More Locals Join
When the Railers take the ice for the first time this season, they’ll be without Bobby Butler, a familiar face for the past two campaigns. A former NHL player and three-time AHL All-star, Butler originally came out of retirement to assist the Railers when they were short on players due to COVID during the 2021-2022 season. After claiming a goal and two assists in his first game back, he decided to sign a full contract with the team. He later returned for the entirety of the 2022-2023 season, providing the young squad with valuable veteran leadership.
Butler’s two year stint with the Railers was the final chapter in a long professional career that included stints in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, Nashville Predators, and Florida Panthers. The early days of his hockey career included time at nearby Marlborough High School, where he led the team to a state championship in 2005.
Butler also played for Team USA in the 2018 Winter Olympics. He will remain with the team as the Director of Hockey Operations for the Junior Railers HC team.
While the end of Butler’s playing days left the Railers with some big skates to fill, the team has been busy at work in the off-season making a number of player acquisitions. New faces on this year’s squad include forward Myles Abbate, a former Plymouth State University player who is originally from Norwell, and defensemen John Copeland, a former Boston University Terrier who hails from Wellesley.
While fans are sure to be excited about some of the new faces on the squad, the re-signing of forward Jack Quinlivan is perhaps the most joyful news of the off-season. The 27 year old Shrewsbury native and University of Maine graduate was away from the team for most of last season following a papillary thyroid cancer diagnosis.
“I’m super thankful for all of the support I’ve gotten from my team of doctors, my family and friends, the entire Worcester Railers organization, the Worcester Railers Booster Club, and my Maine hockey family,” Quinlivan said in a press release issued by the team. “The recovery has been awesome, and I’m feeling great. I’m excited for another opportunity to compete for a job with the Railers.”
The team will be once again helmed by Coach Jordan Lavallee-Smotherman, a former Railers player who is originally from Westborough. Lavallee-Smotherman led the team to a 34-34-4-0 record in his first season in charge, leaving them in fifth place in the North Division and just three points outside the playoff picture.
The Railers last made a playoff appearance during the 2017-2018 season. If they do end up bringing home the cup this year, they would become the first professional hockey team in the DCU Center’s history to win a postseason championship.
Excitement On And Off The Ice
In addition to the excitement of the on-ice goals, body checks and occasional fisticuffs, the Railers have another jam packed promotional schedule planned for this season. Fans can head over to their website (www.RailersHC.com) to see the full list, but here are some of the highlights (subject to change):
- Opening Weekend. Kicking the season off with back-to-back home games, the Railers will host a pre-game block party before the game on 10/21 to celebrate the return of hockey, while Sunday’s game (10/22) will be the team’s first ever Multicultural Night.
- Good Causes. The Railers have previously used their platform to bring attention to a number of important causes, and this year is no exception. Hockey Fights Cancer Night (11/4) will feature special tribute jerseys and a charity game between the Bruins Alumni and the Why Me All Stars, a group of players raising money for the titular charity. Other charitable endeavors will include the annual teddy bear toss on Mental Health Awareness Night (12/9) and a night to raise money for the Jake Thibeault Foundation (2/9).
- Fun For the Kids. In addition to a special Election Day game (11/7) to give kids something to do on a day when many schools are closed, the Railers are also bringing back School Game Days (11/29, 3/13) which have early morning start times to accommodate field trips from area elementary and middle schools. Beyond these school-focused events, other kid-friendly programming includes Princesses and Pirates Day (1/14) and Wizarding World of Worcester Night (3/2), a special tribute to Harry Potter.
- Honoring Other Sports and Teams. This year’s calendar also includes a number of tributes to the region’s rich sports culture, beginning with a celebration of the New England Patriots (11/17). This will be followed with a night to honor local sports legends (1/6), and the return of Ice Cats Night (1/13), WooSox Night (3/3), and Worcester Bravehearts Night (3/29). (As an added bonus for millennials, Ice Cats Night will also double as 90’s Night.)
- Theme Nights and Other Highlights. It just wouldn’t be minor league sports without a bunch of theme nights, and this year’s Railers schedule doesn’t disappoint in this department either. Some of the highlights include 70’s Night (12/1), as well as Country NIght (1/12) and the return of the popular Star Wars Night (1/27).
Tickets for Railers games can be purchased at the DCU Center box office or at the team’s website. Fans who are looking to follow along with the action from home can catch games on the radio via 98.9 Nash Icon or streaming at FloHockey.com.