By David Oliver
With a new semi-professional team on the way, as well as a new stadium for the WSU team, Worcester will soon be a hockey town once again.
The Worcester State hockey team will be sharing an arena with the new semi-pro team, the Railers, as well as several colleges and universities, high schools, and youth hockey organizations. The 18-million-dollar Ice Center should be completed by late August. This center will also be home to the Railers merchandise, other retailers and Nonna’s Pizza & Pasta, a family-style restaurant.
Michael Mudd, Worcester State’s Athletics Director, said that he had been talking about a home rink for Worcester State even before he became the athletic director. When Cliff Rucker, the Railers owner, came along things finally became a reality.
“It had been simmering for a long time and he was the one who came in at the 11th hour to make it happen,” Mudd said.
“The new arena will allow Worcester State’s men’s hockey team the opportunity to be on a more level playing field within our conference when recruiting student-athletes. We will have our own locker room in an arena that is a very short drive from campus. We will also have set practice times and more fan-friendly game starting times. These changes will enhance the academic experience of our student-athletes and at the same time will allow our program to increase our fan support,” said Mudd.
The Worcester Railers HC are replacing the Worcester Sharks as the team to play in the DCU Center starting Oct. 14,2017. The Worcester Sharks left Worcester for San Jose to be closer to their NHL affiliates, the San Jose Sharks, in 2015. The Worcester Sharks changed their name to the Barracudas.
Eric Lindquist, the Vice President of Communication and Marketing for the Railers, said the team is targeting the same fans as the Sharks did for affordable family fun.
“There are three times as many season ticket holders than the Sharks’ last season in Worcester,” Lindquist said.
There is no team yet, but in the upcoming months General Manager and Head Coach Jamie Russell will begin to draft players from all around Massachusetts.
“Jamie has already begun scouting players but can’t sign anyone until mid-June,” Lindquist said.
The Railers want the community to be a very important part of their identity, and have gone out in the community the past year and have showed their support for different companies.
A piece of their mission statement says, “We want our fans to be members and partners in all that we do. Our goals are to win on the ice and bring a Kelly Cup Championship to Worcester while serving as a national ambassador of our city/region, contributing to the local economy, enhancing the quality of life for everyone in central Massachusetts.”
Rucker is building the Ice Center, a state-of-the-art multi-use dual rink facility in the heart of the canal district, to help the Railers become an active part of the community.
Rucker also has opened up a tavern on Commercial Street, which won’t be ready until October. The tavern is a destination for hockey fans to meet before and after the game. The tavern will feature a full menu and bar and will give Railers fans another place to call “home” during and after the hockey season.
The Railers play in The ECHL, which was The East Coast Hockey League, but changed to a coast-to-coast league. The league is a tier below the American Hockey League, which is a tier below the National Hockey League. 586 players have come from the ECHL and have played in the NHL since the league debuted. The ECHL has affiliations with 25 of the 30 NHL teams.