After an early first round playoff exit and long summer, the Royals are back and ready to rumble. This weekend, they take on the team who knocked them out in the first round in game seven, the South Carolina Stingrays. Quite ironic too that they are playing in the same building which always gives the team trouble, the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Royals will look to avenge their early playoff exit, but it will have to be done without a several players. Just three players (not counting late college guys) return from a team last season who finished with 96 points and finished 5th in Eastern Conference. The top three players for Reading last season; Olivier Labelle, Adam Hughesman & Pat Mullane, all bolted to Europe which left a huge whole not only in the scoring punch, but leadership as well. Captain Bryant Molle who has been captain for past two seasons elected to retire after wanting to play and sign with hometown Alaska Aces but his rights belong to Reading. All-time leading scorer and one of all-time favorite Royals Ryan Cruthers elected to retire and coach Charlotte Rush in USPHL (Elite). He was one of those true leaders on and of the ice that you want in your team. Sufficed it to say, Courville had a tough task of filling in the holes left by those players.
A bunch of guys fresh out of college that made good impacts late last season return hoping to fill in roles that were lost this summer and looking at the roster we look pretty good. Now this team is not shaped and look like the team who hoisted the Kelly Cup in 2013, but this is a team who I believe can have a strong season and finish atop of the league yet again. The Royals have not had a bad season and has made playoffs in all six full seasons with Courville behind the bench.
The Royals’ AHL affiliate, Lehigh Valley Phantoms, sent down nine players (4 forwards, 3 defenseman, 2 goalies). All the players assigned from AHL were here with the Royals last season so they know how the league works and knows what needs to be done to fit into the systems. Hopefully these guys can help out newcomers such as: Justin Crandall, Joe Rehkamp, Sam Windle, Derik Johnson & Curtis Leonard and improve their game this season to help Reading go atop of the standings and have a strong year. Having players like Adam Comrie and Maxim Lamarche back in the fold will pay huge dividends this season as both of these defenseman are two big standouts who can help this team get to where they need to.
Lamarche, by the way will be the team’s captain this coming season which was a total shock to everyone but to me is a very good choice. This season’s alternates were chosen as there will be 2 sets of alternate captains. The home alternates will be Cam Reid & Ian Watters, while on the road you will see Jordan Heywood and newcomer (but no stranger to ECHL) Geoff Walker dawn the ‘A’. Since being assigned here last season and spending the majority of the season in Reading, Lamarche has made a big difference on the blue-line. He had a strong ’14-’15 season notching 32 points in 60 games and was among the top in defenseman in ECHL.
The Royals will be in the East division this season, along with Elmira and newcomers Adirondack, Manchester and the Norfolk Admirals. The three newcomers all were apart of the AHL to ECHL switch during the offseason. Some of the teams that switched did bring back some layers who were in the ECHL last season. For example, Norfolk brought back guys that were with Bakersfield like Chase Schaber & Nick MacNeil. I think that Reading and Elmira are the two to most likely make the post season from the East.
With the mixture of those AHL guys and who Courville signed, I think we will be in for yet another treat this season. The team is ready, the ownership is ready and most important the fans are ready. GET READY TO ROAR! GO ROYALS!