The Reading Royals and Elmira Jackals have faced-off against each other for a total of 11 times so far this season; this includes the three games they played this past weekend. As it stands the Royals have beat the Jackals a total of six times while the Jackals have only beaten the Royals five times. This is a proud statement for the Royals and their fans as many view Elmira as Reading’s main rivals. While the Royals only play their other rivals a handful of times, they meet up with the Jackals again and again with games full of action and fighting. The Royals will meet Elmira four more times during the regular season, but are satisfied to have beaten the Jackals two out of three times this past weekend.
On Friday night the Royals were on the road at Elmira. In the first period the Jackals seemed prepared to fight as they took an early 3-1 lead by the end of the first. The second period saw no goals as Elmira held onto their lead and the Royals struggled to get back in the game. In the first half of the 3rd Elmira increased their lead to three when Jackal defenseman Steven Shamanski tapped the puck in past goalie Connor Knapp. In the second half, the Royals were only able to accumulate one more goal from Ryan Cruthers and ended up losing the game 4-2.
On Sunday night, the Royals played the Jackals on Elmira turf again. The Royals took an early 1-0 lead by the end of the first, but the Jackals came back fiercely in the second and claimed a 3-1 lead. The night wasn’t over for the Royals though. By the end of the 3rd, the Royals were able retie the game at 3-3. The game later went into overtime. For five more minutes the Royals and Jackals pushed with no luck as the game ended up going into an always nerve-racking shootout. By the end of the shoot-out Reading’s Pat Mullane and Sean Wiles would both score while the Royal’s goalie Connor Knapp was able to hold off all of the Jackals attempts at scoring. Reading won the game 4-3.
On Monday the Royals and the Jackals celebrated Martin Luther King Day with some hockey on Reading territory. With the game at 1:00 p.m. and the teams still tired from playing two games and traveling the weekend prior, both squads started out looking a bit sluggish. Midway through the period, however, they got their blood pumping and Elmira started off by scoring the first goal at 9:41. After Royals forward Andrew Johnston was sent to the box for tripping, the Jackals took advantage of their opportunity as forward Thomas Nesbitt took possession of the puck and quickly fired it under Royals goalie Connor Knapp.
Now down by one, the Royals saw they had to step up their game. Three minutes later Reading answered Elmira’s first goal with another power play goal. Mike Marcou scored his fourth of the season after slipping the puck past the glove of Travis Fullerton at 12:42. Just two minutes after that forward Olivier Labelle fired one past Fullerton’s stick to make the score 2-1 in favor of the Royals.
In the second period Elmira came out ready to take back the game. At 13:05 they were able to tie up the score when Keith Buehler who was set up by teammates Thomas Nesbitt and Ryan Rashid smacked one past Knapp for his second of the season. Shortly after, as the teams were lining up for the face-off, David Mathers and Justin Sawyer caught the attention of the crowd as they dropped their gloves and prepared to fight.
“That guy was kind of running his mouth a bit. I figured they just scored to tie it up, and we were at home, so if he wanted a fight, it was probably a good time for me to go with him. I tried to get the crowd back into it and liven them up.”
After getting knocked to the ground the two players skated off to the box to each serve their five for fighting penalties. The rest of the period remained goalless.
By the second half of the third period, the Royals would take the lead again. At 12:17 Olivier Labelle scored his second goal of the game while on a power play. He states, “I picked up the puck and it wouldn’t settle; the ice was pretty soft today; it was pretty warm out there. The puck wouldn’t settle, wouldn’t settle, wouldn’t settle, and I was looking for Patty [Pat Mullane] because on the power play you usually try to set the play up, like you don’t want to just take a shot. Then I turned around and he [Pat Mullane] had just iced the puck [so he wasn’t there]. I was going to look for Patty, and I think that might be why the goalie got a little confused because I kept looking at Patty, and once it got a little too late to pass, the defenseman saw that I was going to pass and was going to start covering it, and I just shot it and I think the goalie got surprised.” This would prove to be the game winner, but not the final goal of the night.
The last goal came from Matt Hatch who picked up the puck that Labelle knocked it out into the neutral zone. Hatch took off down the ice like he had rockets on his skates and fired one past Fullerton and into the net. “It was the last shift of the game, and you know they were making a little bit of a push on us, so I think that I just wanted to beat that guy and get a shot on net to see what would happen.” At 18:43 Hatch secured the Royals lead and took away Elmira’s hopes of getting back in the game. The game ended with a final score of 4-2.
The Royals have a five-day break now for the All-Star games. The Royals very own Cam Reid has been selected to participate and will proudly be representing the Royals. After the break the Royals play five games on the road and will not be back until February 4th where they will play the Wheeling Nailers. The Royals are currently in 3rd place in the Eastern Division and 5th in the entire conference.
Coach Courville discusses his feelings on the season thus far, “I like where we are right now, of course I’d like to be in 1st place, but you know with the start we had and the players now that we’ve lost; counting right now I think we’ve lost 12 guys who were initially here in training camp. So, you know, I’m happy, but we still have a ways to go. Hopefully after the All-Star Break we can keep things going. This five-game road trip is going to be hard on us. I know that with the bodies we have, but hopefully we can win some games here and keep going.”
Even though it is only half way through the season, it looks like the Royals do have a decent chance of making it into the playoffs. If they can keep up their away game winning record and increase their at home winning record, they should be able to stay within the top ranks in the conference. Only time will tell what kind of effort the team is willing to make.