MANCHESTER, NH – The Reading Royals picked up their first win against the Manchester Monarchs this season on Sunday afternoon, and they did it in spectacular fashion.
The Royals (21-17-2-0) handed the Monarchs (22-13-3-1) their worst loss of the season, avenging their previous 6-2 loss to the Manchester squad by the exact same score.
The Royals kicked things off at 4:56 of the first period, when they broke free on a 3-on-2 rush against the retreating Monarchs defense. Forward Dillan Fox, playing in only his second game with the Royals, found the stick of Matt Wilkins, who put the puck past the glove of Branden Komm to make it 1-0 Royals.
The Monarchs would strike back at 7:08 of the first, when Matt Schmalz picked up a rebound after a shot by linemate Matt Buckles, returning it toward the net and past an overextended John Muse to draw the score even at one.
Manchester would take the lead at 17:31 of the first by getting up close and personal with Muse while playing 5-on-3. Spencer Watson took the puck to the crease, and passed it to the goalie’s left to a waiting Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman, who finished the play strong to give the Monarchs their first and only lead of the night, 2-1.
Manchester would enter the locker room with the lead, but things were all downhill from there. At 2:55 of the second, Michael Huntebrinker potted his first of two goals after receiving a drop pass from Brian Morgan, and beat Komm over the stick to tie it up at 2-2.
Fox would score his first ECHL goal at 4:07 of the second to make it 3-2, after taking a pass from Mark Bennett on the right side. Deking both a defender and Komm, Fox put the puck in behind the tender’s back for what would be the eventual game winner.
However, the Monarchs’ misery was only beginning. At 5:55 of the middle frame, Nolan Zajac would make it 4-2. Komm had made the leg-save on a shot by Chris McCarthy, but the rebound went way back into the slot and was gobbled up by Zajac, who buried it past Komm for his ninth goal of the season.
5-2 would come at 8:03 of the second, when Huntebrinker made it a pair of goals on the day. Fox had the puck at the goal line, and found Huntebrinker right in front of the net with an effortless pass. The Chesterfield, Missouri native picked up his fourth goal against the Monarchs this season by stuffing the puck through the five-hole.
Komm would be pulled in favor of Charles Williams. But even he wasn’t immune to the relentless attack of the Reading Royals. With Keegan Iverson rung up on a roughing call, Reading capitalized on the power-play opportunity when McCarthy turned a Zajac pass into a one-timer that beat Williams on the glove-side to make the score 6-2.
That would turn out to be the final, in the only bit of mercy the Monarchs were shown all night.
The Takeaway – Coaches Seeley and Giuliano rarely play goalies back-to-back, so it was a curious move to play Komm for a second night in a row. Their reasons are their own, but the results speak for themselves: the Royals scored four goals in 5:07 and took this game away from Manchester decisively. On the other end, Muse played up to his highest level, and certainly wasn’t going to give up six goals. In fact, he’s only let up more than three goals three times this season. The guy is the real deal, and the Royals are going to be a sleeper threat in the North this year. Still, the Monarchs are hanging onto the North lead, so it’s not time to hit the panic button quite yet.
But if your finger is hovering near it right now, no one could blame you.
Notes – The Royals deserve all the credit in the world, so let’s give them some more: six Royals had multi-point games, with Fox leading the way after picking up three. Pretty good night all around by the purple guys.
There were three penalties in the final two minutes of this game, including a crazy double minor for roughing when Royals captain Derek Whitmore absolutely mugged Mikkel Aagaard in the zamboni corner of the SNHU Arena. The end of the game was so prolonged that Muse dropped the puck after a last-ditch shot by Colton Saucerman just to run the clock out.
The Schmalz/Buckles connection has looked really good the past few games. Buckles has a point in four of the last five games, and Schmalz has been creating space with that 6’6″ body of his, sometimes taking on two or three opponents at once.
Williams stopped 15 of 16 after replacing Komm, looking pretty solid yet again.
The Monarchs return to action at the SNHU on January 19th, hosting the Wheeling Nailers for the first time this season. Puck drops at 7 Eastern.