On Saturday night, The Reading Royals captured the top ECHL honors, besting the Stockton Thunder in 5 games and taking home the Kelly Cup. This was the first time either team had made it this deep into the Kelly Cup Playoffs, so they were both looking to make history. The first two games took place at Sovereign Center in Reading, PA before moving west to Stockton, CA for two games. The Royals took a commanding 3-0 series lead and looked to sweep Stockton on Friday. The Thunder would give the Royals a physical battle and ultimately take the game 4-3, forcing another tilt Saturday night.
The Stockton Thunder are known as the “Comeback Kids” and they lived up to the name on Friday night, allowing the Royals only one goal in the first period. The Royals started out the night strong, but were soon dominated by the desperate Thunder. Minutes into the game, the Thunder were given a penalty shot, as Matt Reber was hooked coming into the Royals zone. Royals’ Riley Gill stood tall in net, stuffing the shot opportunity and staving off an early Thunder lead. The Royals would then go on to score, as T.J. Syner drove one home from the slot off a feed from their captain, Yannick Tifu.
The first period saw north-south speed from both teams and as the Royals Nikita Kashirsky drove the net, he took out Thunder goaltender Olivier Roy, leaving him down on the ice behind the goal for several minutes. Kashirsky went off on a penalty for goaltender interference and Tyler Bunz replaced Roy in the net for Stockton. The power play was just what the Thunder needed and they made quick use of it. Nathan Deck fired the puck from the point and Shawn Weller tapped it home to tie the game. The Thunder then caught the Royals on a bad change that left Eric Hunter with a nice breakaway who then fired in on the backhand past Gill. The Thunder outshot the Royals 14-7 for the period and took control of the game.
Stockton kept up the pressure into the second frame, denying Reading any space on the ice to generate offence, particularly from the Royals top line of Tifu and Kashirsky. The Thunder went on the power play and kept traffic heavy in front of Gill. Reber scored just after the Royals returned to full strength, catching a rebound giving the Thunder a 3-1 lead
The Royals came into the third period hot, stepping up the offensive pressure on Stockton’s Bunz, who remained sharp in net. Reading would get one by though, as Joel Champagne trotted into the slot and fired in a wrist shot that brought the Royals to within one.
The Thunder quickly answered back, as Eric Hunter stepped in over the blue line, catching the Royals off guard and fired a shot, clearing Gill’s glove side. The Royals would again try to rally and capitalized on a giveaway by Stockton in the neutral zone, with Ian O’Connor getting one past Bunz, the score again separated by a goal, 4-3.
As the last minutes ticked down, the Royals looked to tie the game and pulled Gill for the extra attacker. A golden opportunity would present itself as the Thunder’s Hunt would be called for an interference penalty, allowing the Royals to play 6 on 4. Stockton kept the pressure on and Bunz kept up his stellar play to give the Thunder the win and force the Royals to wait on their festivities.
Saturday night would show the Royals put on a goal clinic. The floodgates opened with Mark Mitera getting one past Bunz, starting in net for the Thunder’s injured Roy. Reading goals would continue to pour in to the Thunder net, with goals by Brett Flemming and then a short handed goal by Ian O’Connor. The up and coming T.J. Syner would pot two goals. Stanislav Galiev netted a goal in his first game back after missing twelve games on the power play, receiving a feed from Yannick Tifu. That marked Tifu’s league leading 25th point of the post season.
For the final goal it seemed fitting that Joel Champagne, on a drive up the center, caught a feed from Syner and put it in past Bunz. The Royals would close the game 6-0 with the fourth shutout of the playoffs for Riley Gill, who earned the Kelly Cup’s MVP. Reading returns home with the 2013 Kelly Cup to Sovereign Center, it’s first Cup.