In an unusual Monday night game the sagas of the Reading Royals and Elmira Jackals rivalry continued. The Royals pulled off a 5-1 win despite a turnout of only half as many fans as they have typically seen in this season. This proved to be the Royals 9th home win in a row and helped them hold their first place rank in the division.
The Royals played with an edge and seemed to use psychology as a strategy. They started off the period by chirping up and antagonizing Elmira’s Justin Sawyer. Sawyer currently leads his team in penalty time with 140 minutes and ranks 16th in the entire league. The Royals plan appeared to be working as Sawyer was sent to the penalty box for a slashing minor within the first three minutes. Bickering from both the teams and the crowd would ensue.
Unfortunately, forward Ryan Cruthers was sent to the box as well. Cruthers would end up receiving another slashing minor just minutes after his first penalty expired. After that, he would capitalize on a power play courtesy of a hooking minor on Jackal forward Mike Seidel. With David Marshall screening Elmira goalie Sam Marotta, Cruthers was able to fire a laser from the top of the left circle and sink the puck in the back of the net. “The first one was a good screen by Marshall,” Cruthers commented, “but I just needed to get involved early, so I tried to get after with Sawyer a little bit early on, just to try and get my juices flowing again.”
Forward Sean Wiles was able to sneak one more in before the buzzer sounded. His teammate Andrew Johnson was headed up the ice when two Jackals began closing in on him. He swerved to protect the puck and nudged it to Wiles in the right circle. Wiles wasted no time and drove the puck quickly past Marotta for what would prove to be the game winner.
Despite the Royals two-goal lead, Elmira made a quick dash for a come back in the second. Within the first 30 seconds Jackal forward Kevin Sundher took advantage of a power play and finally slipped one past Royals’ goalie Connor Knapp. This was Sundher’s first of the season, and seemed to drain a bit of the Royals’ energy and moral as they played a bit more lethargic for the rest of the period.
Sean Wiles was able to produce one more goal before the period’s end though. He took advantage of Elmira’s too-many-men on the ice penalty and out-skated the remaining Jackal defenders to the other end of the ice where he wailed one past Marotta for his 20th of the season.
Four Royals have now hit the 20-goal benchmark for the season. David Marshall only needs two more goals to hit that mark and Adam Hughesman only needs one. Sean Wiles remarked,
“Any time you’ve got four guys with 20 goals, you’re going to win a lot of games. What is it? 80 goals right there? I’ve never been on a team like that before where we had this many different scores, so it’s nice. Every night somebody different, you know, chips in, or everyone chips in. It’s awesome.”
In the third the Royals increased their two-goal lead to a comfortable four-goal lead. With a mob of players scattering around the goal crease, Royals forward Olivier Labelle was somehow able to nab the puck and stuff it into the net. This was his 21st goal of the season.
As the period rounded down, the Royals made a plan to try and give Wiles a hat trick. “Guys were trying to look for me all over the ice. It’s fun playing on a team like that, right?; where everyone is trying to pick you up and help you out.” Their chance would come within the last two minutes of the game after Steven Shamanski was charged with a tripping call.
With Wiles on the ice, his teammates tried to set him up for that hat trick. Cruthers inadvertently ended up scoring, however, while trying to push the puck to Wiles. He states, “The second one was lucky. I was actually trying to pass it to Wiles for that hat trick, but it hit something and went in.” The Royals would add another win to their stats and are now tied for 1st place in the conference with the Fort Wayne Komets. They hold 1st place in their division by 6 points.
Up next, the Royals will be put to the test as they take on the Toledo Walleye on Saturday, March 7th and Sunday, March 8th. Toledo currently ranks 2nd in the Northern Division and 3rd in the Eastern Conference. They trail the Royals by five points, but the Royals have played four more games than the Walleye. The upcoming weekend will be important for the Royals as they try to hold on to their rank.