GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – The ECHL’s North Division is currently in a tight race for all four playoff positions. The Manchester Monarchs and Adirondack Thunder have been battling for first place for quite some time. The Worcester Railers are now knocking on the Wheeling Nailers’ doorstep for the fourth and final playoff spot.
Meanwhile, the Reading Royals have been sitting comfortably in third place, but quietly sneaking up on Adirondack for second place. The Thunder entered Saturday’s game against the Royals, the final regular season game between the two teams, only one point ahead in the standings.
With only three more games left in the regular season, the Thunder needed to win this game to not only keep their hold on second place, but also to remain within striking distance of first. They did just that with a decisive 6-2 win over the Royals.
When Steven Swavely scored on Reading’s first shot of the night, which caused flashbacks to the Royals’ dominance over the Thunder earlier in the season. But like they have so many times this season, Adirondack bounced right back. It took less than four minutes for Ryan Schmelzer to tie it up with a power-play goal. The Thunder suddenly had all the momentum and didn’t look back from there.
At 9:47 of the first period, Troy Bourke scored, giving the Thunder the lead. Less than a minute later Brian Ward scored his 29th, tying the franchise record for goals in a single season. The Royals were clearly shaken and took their only timeout immediately following the goal.
On the night he was honored with a video tribute for his 500th professional regular season game, Mathieu Brodeur added to his highlight reel with a power-play goal. His tally closed out the first period scoring with less than two seconds remaining. Adirondack headed into the second period with a commanding lead in shots (15-6) and goals (4-1).
Reading opened the scoring in the second frame as well, with a goal from Nolan Zajac. But the Thunder quickly killed any potential momentum for the Royals, when Shane Conacher scored only eight seconds later. Conacher scored his second of the game later in the period to further ensure the Adirondack victory. Surprisingly, Royals goaltender Mark Dekanich remained in the game until that final goal. He was replaced by Branden Komm, who stopped all 10 shots he faced.
There was no scoring in the third period, and the game ended with a 6-2 victory for the Thunder.
Several Thunder skaters had a strong night individually. Conacher finished with two goals and an assist. Bourke picked up a goal and three assists. Schmelzer had a goal and two assists. Defenseman Dylan Olsen contributed with two assists.
Adirondack and Reading both clinched a spot in the playoffs on Friday night. Manchester is currently first in the North with 86 points, with Adirondack close on their heels with 85. Reading has 82 points. Wheeling and Worcester are neck-and-neck with 77 and 76 points, respectively.
The Thunder next face the Railers Easter Sunday. No matter the outcome, the game will end with at least one team moving up in the standings.