READING, PA – After going 3-1-4 on their season-long eight-game road trip, the Reading Royals returned home Wednesday to face the Fort Wayne Komets. It was the first and only meeting of the season between the two inter-conference opponents this season.
These two teams played against each other last season on January 28, 2017 with Reading coming away victorious by a score of 6-1. The Royals have not played a game in Fort Wayne since Game 5 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Semifinals with the eighth-seeded Komets upset the top seed Royals by the score of 2-1 in double overtime to take the series three games to two. Reading has not played a regular season game in Memorial Coliseum since December 21st, 2013. The Royals would end up winning that game in a seven-round shootout with Michal Cajkovsky (who represented his home country of Slovakia in these past Winter Olympics) scoring the decisive goal.
Royals head coach Kirk MacDonald went with Anthony Stolarz in net. Stolarz was sent to the Royals by their NHL affiliate, the Philadelphia Flyers. Wednesday was Stolarz’s first taste of game action in almost a year, but he lasted only 92 seconds into the game before sustaining the injury which has held him out of hockey. As for Fort Wayne head coach Gary Graham, Cam Lanigan made his professional debut in net. Lanigan just signed with the Komets on Friday after completing his college hockey days at Mount Royal University.
Reading has not played a home game since February 22nd and 3:10 into the game Matt Willows wanted to get the fans out of their seats early. Willows he scored his team-leading 27th goal of the season on the power play on only the second shot Lanigan faced as a pro with Adam Schmidt and Chris McCarthy recording the assists. Through the first 20 minutes of the game, Stolarz looked good in his first game in over a year as he stopped all 11 shots faced.
Entering tonight’s game Fort Wayne averaged over four goals a game which leads the league and they wanted Stolarz to know that right away. When the teams returned to the ice for the second period, Fort Wayne had its foot on the gas pedal and showed Royals fans why the Komets are one of the top teams in the Western Conference. It only took them 71 seconds to tie up the game when former Royal Curtis Leonard beat Stolarz top shelf for his third goal of the season. The tie would only last a mere 30 seconds as Viktor Liljegren would finally get one past Lanigan for his first professional goal after signing with the Royals. Mark Bennett would pick up the only assist.
The Komets would continue to fire on the shaky Stolarz as they hoped to regain the lead. Near the halfway point of the game, they would do just that thanks to Dennis Kravchenko’s five-hole goal which was his first of the game and 17th of the season. On the other end of the ice, the Royals would try to do the same to the rookie netminder to tie the game up again and they would succeed when Matt Willows scored off a beautiful pass by his linemate Matt Wilkins to give the Royals the lead after 40 minutes.
Entering the third period Fort Wayne was looking to gain some momentum and 27 seconds into the period they got it as Kravchenko stuffed in a Garrett Thompson rebound five-hole on Stolarz to knot it at three. The majority of the third period was all Komets which included the team taking their first lead of the night thanks to Arthur Tyanulin. Having lost the tie the Royals tried to fight back hoping to salvage at least one point. On the team’s penultimate shot, Adam Schmidt rocketed a wrister from the left slot past Lanigan to tie this see-saw game at four on his 14th of the season. If the Royals had any momentum after Schmidt’s goal it was gone in a matter of 20 seconds as Nick Luukko was assessed a questionable double minor for high-sticking. However less than two minutes into the penalty, Jason Binkley was sent to the box for cross-checking which ended the Komets’ power play.
After 60 minutes the teams were deadlocked at four so it was off to overtime. In overtime it was clear right out of the gate the Komets were in control and Zac Larraza went top-shelf on Stolarz to give the Komets a 5-4 victory.
With the game going to overtime, the Komets became the fifth ECHL team to clinch a spot in the 2018 Kelly Cup Playoffs.
In his first taste of game action in 11 months, Anthony Stolarz made 30 saves on 35 Fort Wayne shots. For the Royals, tonight was the first time they lost a home game in extra time this season as their record falls to 33-21-8, which is good for 74 points to keep them in third place in the North Division.
The Royals will be back in action Saturday night as the Brampton Beast will be in town for the ninth and final meeting of the regular season. The team will retire former captain Yannick Tifu’s #10 and raise it to the Santander Arena rafters.