Royals continue to roll, Labelle scores hat trick

This article can be found published on Something’s Bruin.
Ryan Cruthers returned to the lineup after missing four games with an injury. (Candice Monhollan)

Ryan Cruthers returned to the lineup after missing four games with an injury. (Candice Monhollan)

TRENTON, N.J. – For the first time all season, the Reading Royals reached three games over .500 with a 6-3 win over the Trenton Titans in their third match-up in five games. Their road domination also continued as it was their 18th win away from the Sovereign Center.

Goaltender Karel St-Laurent played in only his fourth game in February – and first complete game over the month – and earned his first decision in 37 days, bringing his overall record to 4-8.

“It was nice,” St-Laurent said. “It’s good for my confidence, but at the same time, now the game’s over. If it’s a bad game or good game for me, I just forget about it and focus in on the next game. I’m just going to keep it simple and give the team a chance to win.”

In a season that has been so up and down, the Royals are beginning to put together the string of wins needed to vault themselves into the playoffs.

“We’ve had some success as of late and guys are starting to buy in a lot more and play better defensively,” head coach Larry Courville said. “That’s probably the difference right now.”

The Titans came into the game with two big wins, out-scoring their opponents 13-2, but the Royals were able to stifle the divisional opponent.

“They’re a team that’s down and out right now,” captain Ryan Cruthers said. “If we get on them early, like we did, and score a couple of goals, it might deflate them a little bit. For us, we’re in a pressure situation where we have to win every game and Trenton maybe doesn’t right now.”

In the previous six games, the Royals tallied the first goal of the game and over that span, went 3-2-0-1. They increased the streak to seven 11:18 into the opening period. Yannick Tifu made a spin-o-rama pass from below the left circle toward the net. The puck careened off a skate from one of the many players crashing around the net and in. Credit for the goal was give to Olivier Labelle for his 23rd of the season.

The Royals had a great chance to make it 2-0 during a power play two minutes later. Mikael Bedard had an open net as he caught goaltender Brad Phillips against the left post, but fumbled with the puck and gave Phillips the opportunity to go post-to-post to make the save.

The Royals would not escape the period without allowing a goal, however, as the Titans struck with 1:11 remaining. A weak wrist shot from Ryan Hayes in the right faceoff circle caught St-Laurent moving and slipped by his outstretched right pad to tie the game.

Labelle gave the Royals their lead back nine minutes into the second off a multitude of chances. After an initial shot from the point, Tifu attempted a wrap-around. Phillips made the save, but the puck slid to Marc Cantin, but was also denied. As he was making the save, Phillips fell onto his stomach, leaving an open net as the puck then went out to Labelle, who buried it.

Once again, the Royals were unable to hold the lead as the Titans tied the game 43 seconds after Labelle with a backhander from Adam Presizniuk that went top shelf on St. Laurent.

Less than three minutes later, Dale Mitchell went flying into Trenton’s end and took a shot that rebounded over to Casey Haines. He put it right through Phillips’ legs at 13:18 to give the Royals their third lead of the game.

With 1:37 left in the second, Titans’ captain Randy Rowe took a slashing minor and was assessed another for unsportsmanlike conduct as he disputed the call with the referee, setting the Royals up with a prime chance to put the game out of reach for Trenton.

Tifu tallied his third point of the night when he scored on the first minor with 33.4 seconds left in the period to put the Royals up 4-2 and head into the intermission that way.

The Titans pulled within one at 5:38 of the third. Andy Bohmbach drew St-Laurent to the right post with his shot, but the rebound went out to Matt Germain. St. Laurent stretched his right pad out, but failed to make the save.

Kenny Ryan took the momentum right back from the Titans 36 seconds later with his seventh goal in 11 games off a shot from the slot.

St-Laurent made some big saves throughout the third to keep the Titans from gaining on the scoreboard.

Rowe was whistled once again with the game almost over, this time for goaltender interference with 50 seconds left. With Phillips pulled for the extra attacker, Labelle got the chance to complete the hat trick. Mitchell skated down the ice with the puck and passed it over to Labelle to notch his third of the game with 7.6 seconds left to give the Royals the 6-3 win.

The Royals have now gained at least a point in five straight games and seven over their last nine. Their win, combined with the shutout to Cincinnati, has moved them into the final playoff spot with 18 games left in the season.

“Anytime you’re winning, everything is better,” Cruthers said. “Winning kind of cures everything. Right now we’re winning, so all the moves [made by Courville] look like the right ones.”

The Royal seem to be getting hot at just the right time as they move down the stretch.

“We’re hoping it’s a season like we had two years ago where we snuck into the playoffs late and we had a pretty good run,” Courville said. “Hopefully we get to the playoffs, of course. It seems like teams who are successful in the playoffs – when they’re playing well toward late in the season – are the teams that do pretty well. We’re hoping that’s what we’re going to do and we’re going to continue to work hard and hopefully get in and then go on a long run.”

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Categories: ECHL, Ice Hockey, Sports

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