At least for tomorrow, that is.
The Reading Royals begin their road to the Kelly Cup tomorrow in Manchester against the Monarchs. The Royals, who finished third in the North Division with a record of 39-24-9-0, will be taking on the second-place Monarchs, who finished with a record of 41-25-3-3. The Monarchs finished one point ahead of the Royals to earn home-ice advantage through the first round of the playoffs.
The Royals have gone 5-4-0-0 against the Monarchs this season. They clinched a playoff berth following their shootout victory against Manchester on March 30th in a game which saw the Royals come back from a 3-0 deficit in the second period.
Matt Willows has been the main cog for the Royals, recording 74 points in 72 games in the best season of his career so far. It’s a surprise that he hasn’t been given a real shot at the AHL level yet, considering he has recorded just under a point per game in his ECHL career with 201 points in 206 games.
While Willows is a dangerous threat whenever he’s on the ice, Michael Huntebrinker and Matt Wilkins have had the best offensive outputs against the Monarchs this season with four goals and four assists each. Wilkins had 47 points in 54 games, while Huntebrinker had 41 points in 65 games. Huntebrinker is sixth on the team in points and leads all Royals rookies (not that there are that many playing every night for Reading) in goals, assists, and points.
Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman leads the Monarchs in virtually all stat categories, and it isn’t even close in some of them. His 72 points are 26 more than Zac Lynch and his 34 goals are nine more than Spencer Watson. Needless to say, the Monarchs probably wouldn’t be in the spot they are in if he wasn’t playing at the level he is playing.
LaVallee-Smotherman, who is in the midst of his first full ECHL season after playing in Europe and the AHL for a number of years, has scored nine goals in nine games against the Royals this season along with two assists. If there is one person to look out for in this series for Manchester, it’s going to be him.
John Muse was reassigned to the Royals from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms yesterday, which answers a lot of questions the Royals had surrounding the starter between the pipes come Game One. Muse went 19-5-2 with the Royals this season, posting a .931 save percentage. With the Phantoms, he went 11-2-1-1 with a .919 save percentage. Needless to say, the man has lost very few times this season.
Branden Komm and Mark Dekanich have not provided the strongest goaltending for the Royals this season. Komm went 14-9-4-0 with a .917 save percentage, but some recent performances have lowered his stock in goal. Dekanich went 13-15-4-0 with a .906 save percentage. Having Komm and Dekanich in as a backup to Muse will suit the Royals well, but no matter what, Muse being the starter will make the Royals more of a threat this postseason.
The series will open up in Manchester with two games on the road for the Royals. They play tomorrow at 7 p.m. then Saturday at 6 p.m. They’ll move to Reading for the next three games (if Game Five is needed) on Monday, Wednesday, and next Thursday, all at 7 p.m.. If the series isn’t wrapped up by Game Five, Games Six and Seven will be held in Manchester next Saturday at 6pm and the following Tuesday at 7 p.m.
This is the ninth-straight year that the Royals have made the Kelly Cup Playoffs and the first time since the 2008-09 season that both Flyers affiliates and the Flyers themselves made the playoffs. The Flyers’ ECHL affiliate that year was the Wheeling Nailers.
With the question in goal finally answered and the Royals looking good to end their season, they could be poised for a deep run.
Just don’t lose 7-0 in Game One.