By Erin Bradley
In just seven weeks, Reading Royals fans will be filing into the Santander Center (formerly the Sovereign Center) eager to start a new season with their new affiliations: the Philadelphia Flyers and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Fans will meet up with good friends they haven’t seen since last season and check out what has changed with both the team and the stadium.
They will notice a brand new scoreboard complete with large television screens on each side, a new color scheme of purple and orange, and, of course, some changes in the line-up. As usual they can expect to hear horns blaring, cowbells ringing, and Dave “Frenchy” Bauman announcing the game. When the Royals come out for their warm-up, the fans will get their first glimpse of the new players and their skills. One thing they may quickly notice is the size of the team. So far, all of the players on the roster are 5’11” and up which should make for an intimidating crew. Here is what the roster looks like so far:
Seven of the players listed are returning from previous seasons including: Olivier Labelle, Kevin Walrod, Ian Watters, Ryan Cruthers, Domenic Monardo, Bryant Molle and David Marshall. Labelle, Cruthers and Marshall will be the players to watch as they are the most experienced and will likely be major contributers this season.
Many fans will be pleased to see Olivier Labelle back on the roster. He has not been with the Royals since their 2011-2012 season, but he was a fan favorite during that time. Since that season, he has been playing with the Providence Bruins in the AHL and with Graz EC in Austria. Labelle is the most experienced player on the team with nine years pro experience between the ECHL and AHL. He has played 126 games in the AHL and 264 games in the ECHL. In the ECHL he has 113 goals and 100 assists for a total of 213 points, but he is best known for his gritty hard hitting style of play.
Ryan Cruthers is another key player and has seven years’ experience in the ECHL. He has been playing on and off with the Reading Royals since 2009 and has also won multiple awards including Offensive Player of the Year and the Fan’s Choice Award (three times). He is the All-Time Career Leader for the Royals with 71 goals, 152 assists, 223 points and 212 games played.
David Marshall was part of the team when the Royals won the Kelly Cup back in 2013. Like Labelle and Cruthers, he is experienced with a total of six years in the ECHL. Even though he has only played a total of eight games for the Reading Royals, he has racked up plenty of experience with both the Charlotte Checkers and the Utica Comets.
Unfortunately, the team will be losing last season’s captain Yannick Tifu who is moving to France to play for Les Ducs d’Angers of the Ligue Magnus. In the 2011-2012 season Tifu won the Team MVP Award and Fan’s Choice Award. In the 2012-2013 season he also won Team MVP, Team Ironman, and Fans’ Choice Award again. He has been with the Royals for three seasons and was one of the most energized and dedicated players on the ice.
The Royals can also expect to acquire some players from the Flyers and the Phantoms. The Flyers have invited 64 players to training camp, but only 23 can be on an NHL roster at any given time. Therefore, fans can expect some of these players to filter down through to the AHL to the ECHL. Six of these 64 players invited to camp are goaltenders. It is expected that the Flyers will assign two goaltenders to the Royals in hopes that they can develop their skills to NHL level. In the 2007-2008 season the Royals produced Jonathan Quick who moved up to the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings within one season and eventually went on to become a two time Stanley Cup champion, MVP, and Olympic goaltender for team USA.
One of the biggest obstacles the Royals will face this season is losing their key players to more frequent call-ups due to the localness of their new affiliates. Coach Larry Courville tells the Reading Eagle he is predicting and preparing for this possible difficulties that lie ahead. He states, “There are times in the year when coaches want to give up because it’s difficult. You don’t really have your team all the time. You’re constantly filtering guys in and tweaking your system to try to generate wins.” Fans shouldn’t worry about this complication too much though as Courville has been quite successful in rearranging players in previous seasons. “I enjoy that challenge,” he says “I always want to be successful. I want to win. I try to work a little harder than everybody else so I am successful.”
Coach Larry Courville
With all of this in mind, it seems like the Reading Royals will have an interesting year ahead of them as they try to adjust to their new affiliates. They already have several talented players on the roster and have a good opportunity to gain some more. If they are able to hold on to their key players they should have a good chance of making it to the playoffs, but only time will tell if the Royals can pull off another Kelly Cup win.