Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 208]: Worcester and the Railers, love at first ice

Worcester is a town that likes to get its buzz on.

Whether it’s the Amazon and PawSox bids, City Square, the Canal District, airport and rail innovation, solar farms or yellow bicycles, as long as the Woo’s trending, the powers-that-be are happy.

Cliff Rucker and Worcester Railers HC have quickly become a driving force of buzz-worthiness, and the team’s debut to more than 12,000 raucous fans at the DCU Center pulsed even more electricity through downtown.

Hitch, for one, is charged up.

Worcester Railers tracking rare sellout to open inaugural season

In their nine seasons of existence, the Worcester Sharks never sold out the DCU Center. The closest the American Hockey League club ever came to a sellout was in February 2012, when the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski spiked a puck at center ice. Even that spectacle left the crowd more than 2,000 tickets short of a packed house.

The Sharks’ AHL predecessor, the Worcester IceCats, did slightly better. The team registered two sellouts, both in 1995, during its decade in the city.

Attendance declined in each of the Sharks’ final three seasons in Worcester. In the club’s final season here before moving to California in 2014-15, the average paid attendance was 3,847, which ranked in the bottom third of the AHL.

The NHL’s San Jose Sharks didn’t move their AHL affiliate out of Worcester because of attendance issues. They wanted their minor-league team to join them on the West Coast. But there weren’t many Worcester fans showing up to prove they wanted the team to stay, either.

Rich LeBlanc / Worcester Railers HC

Chris Langkow is a 28-year-old forward from Canada who last season played for a now-defunct Slovenian team in the Austrian Hockey League.

This week, professional hockey returns to Central Massachusetts for the first time in more than two years. The Worcester Railers open their first season as an ECHL (formerly East Coast Hockey League) expansion team on Saturday, Oct. 14, when they host the Manchester Monarchs.

The Railers hope that in one game, they can achieve what the Sharks never did and fill the 12,316-seat DCU Center.

One thing Americans can agree on? Legalize pro sports betting, poll says

Fifty-five percent of Americans support making gambling on professional sports legal in all states, according to poll results [see below] released Tuesday.

Such gambling is currently legal in Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon, although pollsters found it is fairly common — one in five Americans surveyed had placed a bet and 73 percent of those who did so said it made watching the games more interesting.

The UMass Lowell-Washington Post poll found 33 percent of respondents disapproved of allowing gambling on professional sports in all states, and another 12 percent had no opinion.

Pollsters conducted live interviews with a random sample of 1,000 American adults. The interviews were conducted in English and Spanish via cellphones and landlines from Aug. 14 through Aug. 21. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 points.

Sina-cism: Railers follow in IceCats’, Sharks’ tracks — but, how closely?

The season opener for the Worcester Railers — the city’s third minor-league hockey franchise in recent history — is being seen by some as a chance to net success where the previous two clubs, the IceCats and Sharks, failed.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

I wish the Railers good luck, but how wrongheaded to think of the IceCats and Sharks as failed teams.

The IceCats arrived here in 1994 from Springfield, played 11 American Hockey League seasons, then left for Peoria, Illinois. They are now the AHL’s Utica Comets. The Sharks, after nine years in Worcester, are now the San Jose Barracuda, sharing an arena with their parent, the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.

The list of current and former AHL teams is long. With a few exceptions — the Hershey Bears (1938), Rochester Americans (1956), and Providence Bruins (1992) — AHL teams come and go with great frequency. Many number their seasons in single digits.

Inbox [Sept. 13]: News and notes from The Grid, WPI, Bancroft School, Women in Action, Davis Art Gallery and City to Saddle

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

MG2 Group secures $38M for Grid properties

The MG2 Group, owners of the Grid District, have secured a $38 million floating-rate loan for Bancroft on the Grid and Portland on the Grid, two adjacent multifamily properties with commercial space along Worcester Common.

The loan will facilitate the assets’ transition to luxury apartments amid Worcester’s revitalization and provide necessary capital to build out two high-end restaurant spaces at ground level.

“John McGrail and MG2 have been pioneers in Worcester dating back more than a decade, and Ladder Capital took the time to understand just how much is going on in the local market,” Tom Sullivan, executive director of Cushman & Wakefield’s Boston debt practice, said. “This loan will allow MG2 to fulfill the vision it has had for these assets and turn them into two of Worcester’s premier housing and entertainment destinations.”

Doherty’s Tajon Vassar a fast-rising star for the Highlanders

In many ways, Tajon Vassar is a microcosm of the entire Doherty football team.

An overlooked kid who puts in the work, plays both sides of the ball, and is trying to live up to the accomplishments of his older brother, Vassar embodies the traits of many on this year’s hopeful Highlanders.

Now a junior, Vassar still has some things to prove, but after a breakout sophomore campaign much will be expected of the electric running back and defensive back.

“We’re lucky with Tajon, because he’s one of our best players, if not our best player, and he’s also the hardest worker,” Doherty coach Sean Mulcahy said. “You don’t always have that. He works hard, and he’s gotten physically bigger and stronger this offseason, which will obviously help.”

Sound of (Mass) Fury signifies nothing but football for those who just won’t quit

The overwhelming majority of athletes stop playing their favorite sports at the youth, high school or college level. Without a ticket, the bright lights of Gillette Stadium or Fenway Park are out of reach.

There are options, though, for the weekend warriors who just can’t bring themselves to hang up the cleats or tag their dusty old shoulder pads for the next yard sale. And who don’t mind slightly dimmer lighting.

The semi-professional Eastern Football League has provided a competitive oasis for scholastic and collegiate gridiron greats since 1961 — many area fans may remember the long-dominant Marlborough Shamrocks — and for the past several years the Worcester-based Mass Fury have been winning trophies and keeping dreams alive.

St. John’s depth has Pioneers dreaming big in 2017

St. John’s is never short on talent, in any sport.

The Pioneers are coming off another banner athletic year that again saw their teams make deep postseason runs across the board, so it seems almost silly to say that one particular team is loaded.

But, if that word has meaning left on the St. John’s campus in Shrewsbury, it most certainly applies to this year’s football team, which will vie for a state title in the newly aligned Division 3.

While most of the region is bemoaning the losses of generational talents, like Grafton’s Ifeatu Melifonwu, West Boylston’s Cole McCubrey and Leominster’s Noah Gray, the Pioneers are thrilled to welcome back nearly all of their big names from a season ago, starting with highly regarded athlete Hunter Gorgas.

Now a senior, Gorgas holds scholarship offers from Rhode Island, Monmouth and Wagner, but expect things to pick up for the 6-foot-5 defensive end, tight end and wide receiver. After attending summer camps at Boston College, Temple, Syracuse, UConn and others, Gorgas has drawn more Division I Football Bowl Subdivision interest, but has only one thing on his mind this season.

Joe Parello / For Worcester Sun

Hunter Gorgas, second from right, is a talented tight end and defensive end with bright prospects at the college level.

“We have the talent to make it to states,” Gorgas said. “The only goal that everybody on the team has, including myself, is to win states.”

That tunnel vision should serve St. John’s well.

More from the Sun Football Forecast:

  • Local football stars to watch on Saturdays and Sundays |  So, if you want to keep track of the Worcester County boys now playing at football’s highest levels, you’ve come to the right place. Here is a handy list of, and outlook for, every CMass native playing in the NFL and the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision.
  • Worcester’s Yiadom primed for big senior season at BC |  The Doherty legend’s name has come up a lot more in talks about the best players in the formidable Atlantic Coast Conference. But to senior DB Isaac Yiadom, that’s all just noise. “I don’t really listen to any of that, I just have to keep doing what I always do.”
  • Wachusett’s Tyler Catalina’s journey to an NFL roster spot |  “I’ve got to keep working and showing the coaches I can handle anything they throw at me,” Catalina said in mid-August. Those coaches, it seems, have seen something from the 325-pounder, who has earned a backup role on the Washington Redskins offensive line.

Coach Justin McKay brings tireless work ethic to St. Peter-Marian football

If you had to describe Justin McKay’s days during football season in one word, it would definitely be “long.”

On the Guardians’ first day of camp, McKay had his new players in the meeting room at 1 p.m., on the practice field at 5 p.m., and ready to go home about 7:30.

But there would be little rest for St. Peter-Marian’s football team, as the Guardians were back at it in the school auditorium at 7 a.m. the following morning, playbooks in hand, ready to learn McKay’s offensive and defensive systems.

“We’re trying to make this feel like a college football camp,” McKay said during his first practice at SPM. “We’ve got meetings and practice in the same day, and everything we’re doing, we’re doing like a big-time program. We just got the field painted, we’ve got the music playing, and the kids have brought the energy so far.”

Indeed they had, but that doesn’t mean his captains didn’t notice the extra workload.

“It was intense,” senior captain Matt Dumphy said of the team’s first day. “It was a lot more this year, but we’re ready for it. In the past, we would maybe do four hours on the first day. This year was six or seven, but we’re learning a lot.”

More from the Sun Football Forecast:

  • Local football stars to watch on Saturdays and Sundays |  So, if you want to keep track of the Worcester County boys now playing at football’s highest levels, you’ve come to the right place. Here is a handy list of, and outlook for, every CMass native playing in the NFL and the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision.
  • Worcester’s Yiadom primed for big senior season at BC |  The Doherty legend’s name has come up a lot more in talks about the best players in the formidable Atlantic Coast Conference. But to senior DB Isaac Yiadom, that’s all just noise. “I don’t really listen to any of that, I just have to keep doing what I always do.”
  • Wachusett’s Tyler Catalina’s journey to an NFL roster spot |  “I’ve got to keep working and showing the coaches I can handle anything they throw at me,” Catalina said in mid-August. Those coaches, it seems, have seen something from the 325-pounder, who has earned a backup role on the Washington Redskins offensive line.

Inbox [Sept. 3-9]: News and notes from Railers, WCAC, Research Bureau, GIlman Scholars and WPI

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Rucker, Myers rated among most influential people in New England hockey

Worcester Railers HC team owner Cliff Rucker and team president Michael G. Myers have been included in the New England Hockey Journal’s 2017 100 most influential people in New England hockey list.

The 100 most influential people in New England hockey include team owners, team presidents, coaches, writers and more.

Rucker was recognized for his success in returning a professional hockey team to Worcester, and his investment in the building of the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center, a 100,000-square-foot practice facility for the Railers.