With 9 games remaining in the regular season for both the Reading Royals and the Manchester Monarchs, there was little to no separation between the two teams on the brink of clinching playoffs. separated by 1 point, they were fighting to keep the Wheeling Nailers from catching up to them.
The North division, home to both Reading and Manchester, is a tight battle this year. On Wednesday, the teams from 1st to 4th were separated by a measly 4 points coming into the night’s games.
To a small crowd at the Santander Arena, a hockey game awaited them.
Early in the 1st, a collision between Monarchs defenseman Mario Puskarich and Royals goalie Martin Ouellette sent Ouellette flying to the ice. No call was made, much to the dismay of the fans. Some early action found both Ouellette and Monarchs goaltender Jack Flinn to make some saves, albeit with some dicey movements. After some fantastic early pressure just 3 minutes into the game, Ouellette was forced to make a save through traffic.
Going the other way, quick skating from the Royals’ Oliver Labelle got him behind the Manchester net. Sending the puck out in front, he found Derik Johnson, but his shot was saved by the Blocker of Flinn. Labelle continued to get many opportunities on this shift, including one shot on the hashmarks that was only able to catch the glass.
Coming out of the radio timeout, Reading newcomer Evan Bloodoff sent a puck sliding through the crease area of the Manchester net. The Royals were starting to come alive. Keeping the puck in the zone for an extended period of time, the Royals were not allowing Manchester to come off on a change. When they finally did, Derik Johnson tried to take advantage of that with a quick shot on the left-wing side that was saved by Flinn.
With 11 minutes left in the opening frame, Manchester finally was able to touch the puck. However, they were wasteful with it and got called for icing. At this point in the early contest, the Royals had 5 unanswered shots.
Puskarich, a newly signed played for the Monarchs, was able to get a beautiful scoring opportunity, as he shouldered off the Royals’ defensemen for a shot on Ouellette. He was able to save it on the low-side.
At the 10:04 mark of the 1st, Manchester forward Ashton Rome was called for interference. The Royals came in to this game with a 17.0% conversion rate on the powerplay throughout this season, good for 13th in the ECHL. After a Justin Crandall turnover at the Manchester blueline, the Monarchs were able to get a goal-scoring opportunity the other way with a 2-on-1 that was cancelled out by the Reading backcheck. Although they had some early opportunities, mainly aided by the speed of Matt Willows, the Royals were not able to get on the board.
A failed dump-in attempt by Royals defenseman Todd Perry gave the Monarchs a prime scoring opportunity on Ouellette, and although the shot got by him, it caught the crossbar. Immediately the other way, a shot by Royals star Ryan Penny was snagged by the sliding glove of Jack Flinn.
After a faceoff win by the Monarchs was taken next to their goalie, a quick rush into the Royals zone led to a goal at the 17:17 mark of the 1st to put them up 1-0. A bouncing puck changed its trajectory multiple times before going in off of Manchester defenseman Teddy Doherty. It was the beautiful passing play off the faceoff that led to the goal, and after a great amount of pressure from the Royals, the Monarchs were sent into the driver’s seat.
A scary moment occurred with just over a minute to go in the 1st. Mike Pereira of the Royals caught an edge and slammed into his own goal, causing it to topple on top of Martin Ouellette, just barely missing his head. Ouellete was unscathed. At the end of the 1st period, the score was 1-0 to the Monarchs while the Royals led in shots 12-8.
Early in the second, some puck luck found Matt Willows in front of the net with a tremendous scoring opportunity, only to be denied by the left pad of Jack Flinn. Flinn, who was a bit shaky at the start of this game, had started to feel more comfortable on his skates.
Nick Luukko and Mike Pereira had the benefit of getting 2 shots in-close on goal, but the Royals were unable to challenge Flinn, as both shots missed the target entirely. In fact, Luukko seemed to be in between a shot and a pass as his attempt scattered through the blue paint.
A turnover in the Reading defensive zone led to an attempt on goal for the Monarchs, but the cross-crease pass was cancelled out and sent the other way for an icing. Reading was able to get a few more attempts on Flinn, and with around 15 minutes left in the game, they had already turned on 16 shots on the Manchester goaltender.
A shot from Justin Crandall on the right circle caught Flinn in the chest, but he was not able to cover it due to the screen in front by Mike Pereira. Pereira, who was all over the ice in this game, was just not able to find the puck underneath him for a shot. Manchester was able to clear it.
A fatal turnover on the Royals’ breakout meant that the puck ended up on the sick of Daniel Doremus of the Monarchs. With a clear shot on net, he sniped it over Martin Ouellette at the 7:06 mark of the 2nd period to put Manchester up 2-0.
Just 1 minute later, the Royals were back on the attack. Florian Iberer found Steve Swavely breaking to the net. Swavely received the puck on his forehand and made no mistake with it, shooting it by the desperate Jack Flinn to cut the Manchester lead in half. At the 8:29 mark of the 2nd, the score was 2-1. Swavely was just assigned back to the Royals from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL, most likely for a reconditioning assignment.
After a beautiful steal in the neutral zone as the Monarchs were changing lines, Justin Crandall wound up for a slapshot at the top of the hashmarks; his shot was smothered by the midsection of Jack Flinn. A collision in the neutral zone led to newcomer Michael Huntebrinker having an opportunity to get his first professional goal, but Flinn was up to the task.
A quick connection between the Monarchs’ Wade Murphy and Connor Hardowa led to a shot off the post to the left of Ouellette. When they say that a goaltender’s best friend is the post, they are usually right; it was true this time around.
With 4:42 left in the 2nd, Reading’s Oliver Labelle and Manchester’s Tyler Elbercht got into a shoving match, and that’s putting it lightly. Throwing some jabs into each other’s faces, they were both sent into the box for 2 minutes, leading to a 4-on-4 session.
Robbie Czarnik, the points leader for the Royals, used his speed to get a chance on net. With a beautiful toe-drag, his move was cancelled out as he tried for a shot. Matt Willows was also looking for an opportunity, as he forced his way in front of the Manchester goal but to no avail on the scoresheet. At the end of the 2nd, the score was 2-1 for the Monarchs while the shots were 27-16 for the Royals.
At the beginning of the 3rd, the ice seemed to let the players glide effortlessly with multiple back-and-forth attempts. For the Royals, an end-to-end effort by Chase Golightly led to the puck bouncing to the stick of Oliver Labelle. Labelle, who was in front of the net, was unable to get a good shot off, and Flinn covered it.
As the story of the game went, Reading was getting many goal-scoring opportunities but wasn’t converting them. The question of shot quality vs shot quantity must be asked here, as Reading was certainly getting many attempts without many results
After Teddy Doherty was able to walk in on Ouellette, his shot was saved by the 6-2 goaltender as he came out to challenge. Another shot on goal was saved, and while Ouellette didn’t cover it, it was due to a Manchester stick pushing both him and the puck into the net. The refs blew the whistle long before the puck went in the net, and the score remained 2-1.
After a huge scramble in front of the Reading goal, Joe Diamond of the Monarchs was able to shove it in past a diving Ouellette. After the puck was squeezed into the crease by Daniel Doremus, Diamond was able to finish it. Ouellette could not locate the puck in time, and the score became 3-1 in favor of the Monarchs at the 5:28 mark of the 3rd.
Trying to regain their stride, a Matt Willows shot was sticked away by Flinn. Just a minute later, Ryan Penny was sent to the ice by a high-stick from Wade Murphy. With blood coming out of his mouth, the Royals were to get a 4-minute powerplay with 12 minutes left in regulation. Down 2, this was their chance to come back.
Sidenote: that might be the only time you ever wish for your own player to bleed.
On the ensuing double-minor, a few immediate shots were saved by Jack Flinn, including a Justin Crandall slapper at the top of the circle. The first 2 minutes of the powerplay were extremely sloppy for Reading, and as the first penalty expired, a whistle was blown for a struggle happening between a Reading and Manchester player on the Manchester bench. Confused as to what the calls would be, the Monarch and Royal players questioned the ref’s intentions. After around a minute stoppage, no one was sent to the box.
Reading continued to get opportunities in on Flinn during the second half of their 4-minute powerplay, but none were getting in the back of the net. The penalty expired without Reading scoring.
As the clock continued to wind down, the Royals began to get extremely sloppy with the puck. Behind the Reading net, a giveaway by the Royals led to the Monarchs’ Wade Murphey swinging the puck in front of the net to Joe Diamond who slotted the puck home for his 2nd goal of the night at the 14:53 mark of the 3rd to make it 4-1. Ouellette was caught looking the other way, not expecting his team to give the puck away. A frustrating night for him, he slammed his stick in anger after that goal.
At the 15:59 mark of the 3rd, the teams were to skate 4-on-4 again as Oliver Labelle and Ashton Rome took their 2nd penalties of the night. Ouellette was able to fight off a shot from the slot with his glove, but Manchester corralled the rebound. The Royals pulled their goaltender, and the Monarchs quickly capitalized with a empty-net goal off the stick of Kevin Morris at the 17:01 mark of the 3rd. As the stands began to empty, the Royals let the Monarchs get a few more shots on net before the final buzzer. The game ended in a dominating fashion in favor of the Manchester Monarchs, 5-1.
FINAL: Manchester Monarchs 5-1
SHOTS: Reading Royals 36-27
- The Royals came into this game 1 point ahead of the Monarchs. The North Division is almost anyone’s this season in the ECHL, with four teams being separated by only 4 points. The Wheeling Nailers are behind the 4th place Monarchs by 5 points and need to start making a late-season push. The one North outlier? 38 point-Elmira. The Elmira Jackals will be folding at the end of this season.
- Speaking of teams folding, another ECHL team will be doing just that at the end of this season: the Alaska Aces. Citing financial reasons that have to do with the Alaskan economy, the Aces will cease operations just a few seasons after winning the Kelly Cup.
- This game was the debut of the Royals’ Michael Huntebrinker. Huntebrinker was just recently signed to an ATO with the Royals after playing 4 seasons of D1 NCAA hockey with the Minnesota State Mavericks of the WCHA. Over his 4 seasons there, he recorded 15 goals and 38 assists for 53 points in 124 games. As a senior, he was an alternate captain. He previously played for the Waterloo Black Hawks and Chicago Steel of the USHL as well as the St. Louis Bandits of the NAHL.
- What’s an ATO? An ATO is an Amateur Tryout contract and can be used in the ECHL, AHL, and NHL (for emergency goaltenders). An ATO is typically used in the ECHL much more than the AHL. At the end of an ECHL or AHL season, teams will begin to sign a lot of players to ATOs to see what they can do at the professional level. Signing an ATO can be very beneficial to the team and player; the team doesn’t need to make a contract obligation, and the player does not lose their amateur status. That’s what Michael Huntebrinker has.
- The Manchester road record leaves a lot to be desired coming into the night’s game; they have a 11-11-4-3 road record. If we want to compare that to the Royals’ road record, they have a 18-11-2-2 record. Both teams have comparable numbers at home, however; Reading is 18-12-0-0 at home and Manchester is 21-9-3-1.
On Friday, the Reading Royals will welcome another North Division foe, the Adirondack Thunder. The Thunder will be coming off a win against the Orlando Solar Bears on Tuesday night. Coming into Wednesday night’s action, Adirondack was 2nd in the North Division with 78 points. They will also play Adirondack on Saturday. Steve Swavely and head coach Larry Courville both mentioned turnovers as the major cause of their failures during the game Wednesday night, so look for those to be limited.
On Friday, the Manchester Monarchs will be playing the bottom-dwellars of the North Division, the Elmira Jackals. The Jackals, as of Wednesday night, have 38 points on the year. If you do the math, Manchester has almost double that point total. They will also be playing Elmira on Saturday and Sunday.
The next scheduled Royals game for GNGHockey will be March 24 against Adirondack.
Dylan Coyle is a writer and the founder of Good Night, Good Hockey. He is also a Hershey Bears and Reading Royals reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanRCoyle.