For the price of a can of food, Royals fans got their first preview of this season’s team Saturday night. The night started at 7:00 with a collective singing of the National Anthem by an estimated 2,000 fans. After beating the Jackals 4-1 the night prior, the Royals set out to claim another win.
The Royals have a lot of new faces, as can be expected with a new affiliation, but they have many returning players as well including Olivier Labelle, Sean Wiles, Ryan Cruthers, Justin Daniels, Bryant Molle, and David Marshall. At first glance, the Royals have a large team with many of the players towering over six feet.
The first period was a little sloppy as the players tried to adjust to the new team and the new system. Elmira’s Matt Tassone gave the Jackals an early lead at 5 minutes into the first period after a defensive turnover. Halfway into the first, old rivalries began to show as Ryan Cruthers and Elmira’s Brodie Reid had a tussle. Fans were disappointed as the ref gave Cruthers two minutes for roughing and Elmira’s Duncan Schulz a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Mascot Slapshot was also on the job teasing the players in the box.
With Elmira still leading 1-0, Royals forward Sean Wiles tied up the game with only 3.5 seconds left. Wiles later commented,
“I remember Ryan Cruthers going down on the wide side and I called for a puck that I probably shouldn’t have. He passed it to me and we got a good bounce back to Molle at the point. He put a good shot on the net. I just managed to get my stick on it and tip it in.”
The Royals entered the second period energized by their late first goal and controlled the play for much of the second period. They stepped up their game by better using their team size, and winning the battles in the corners and along the boards. Halfway into the second the Royals took advantage of a power play after Jackal Justin Kea got a penalty for slashing. Wiles scored his second goal of the game with an assist from Ryan Cruthers and Zach Davies.
A little less than four minutes later, Olivier Labelle scored another goal by finding a loose puck and firing a slap shot low to the stick side of Elmira’s goaltender, Neil Conway. As the second period ended, the Royals went into the locker rooms with a 3-1 lead.
In the third period, the Royals saw a goaltender change from Connor Knapp to Sam Marotta as Coach Larry Courville and his staff evaluated the players. The Elmira Jackals pushed harder to try and close the gap in the score, but saw no luck. The Royals defense stayed strong and did not give the Jackals any good scoring chances.
Halfway into the period, the Royals gained an even bigger lead as forward Justin Daniels scored his first pre-season goal. Daniels was not able to play last season due to a heart condition. He states, “Last season, I wasn’t here. I took a year off. I had open heart surgery. July 1st , I had a valve replacement.”
The last half of the third period saw more drama between Cruthers and Tassone. Around the 13 minute mark, fans spotted the two barking at one another from the bench with not much of a barrier between them. The fight peaked as Tassone jumped from the bench and speared Cruthers. Both players were given penalties. Tassone received a double game misconduct and a five minute major, while Cruthers got a ten minute misconduct and two minutes for slashing.
With two minutes left Elmira called a time-out, but again saw no luck as the game ended with a final score of 4-1. Elmira went home with a list of things to work on and fans cheered for the Royals’ three stars of the game: Sean Wiles, Ryan Cruthers and Olivier Labelle.
Coach Larry Courville made one cut so far with 5’10’ forward Kyler Nixon who was injured in Fridays night’s game. As for future cuts, he says he may make one more, but doesn’t plan on making any decisions for a couple of days. He is also looking to replace a forward who was hurt during camp.
The Royals will also face a lot of tough games this season. “I think we have the toughest division,” Courville states. The eastern division is often one of the toughest divisions, but with the recent expansion of the divisions it will be even tougher for the Royals to make it out. “My opinion is that South Carolina is going to be a powerhouse,” Courville says. The South Carolina Stingrays finished first in the southern division last season with a record of 43 wins and 23 losses.
One main aspect Courville wants to improve on is penalty kills, “Most of my PK [penalty kill] guys the last two years are guys who I’ve had for some time. The guys who are going to be killing penalties for me this year are going to be a lot different, so that’s where I think we could be a little better the last two games. And we’re going to work on that so we can be better and more efficient at it.”
Overall, Courville is pleased with the progress so far this season, “So far, I’ve been happy with practices and the way the guys are competing and understanding the systems.” He still has a few changes to make, but is beginning to establish his team for the season.
The Royals first official home game is October 25th when they will take on the Elmira Jackals again. There will also be a pre-game block party where Flyers Alumni Brian Propp will make an appearance.