Royals clinch playoff berth on final night of regular season

This article can be found published on Something’s Bruin.
Ethan Cox scored his first three goals as a Royal Saturday night against the Trenton Titans. (Mike Ashmore)

Ethan Cox scored his first three goals as a Royal Saturday night against the Trenton Titans. (Mike Ashmore)

READING, Pa. – Back on Dec. 2 in the midst of a nine-game losing slump, then-captain Ryan Cruthers made a guarantee that the Reading Royals would make the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

Now, almost four months later, the Royals clinched a berth into the playoffs on the last night of the ECHL regular season off a 6-4 win on the back of Ethan Cox – the player Cruthers was traded to the Alaska Aces for – and with a little help from the Cincinnati Cyclones.

After re-tooling the roster the week of the ECHL Trade Deadline, the Royals put together a run of 9-2-1 and were able to secure the eighth seed in the playoffs.

“Eleven games ago, we were battling for a playoff spot,” captain Yannick Tifu said. “We went 9-3 in the last 12. We got 11 of the last 12 points. That group of guys in the room – I have no words – they deserve everything that just happened to us right now. As a group, we came together 11 games ago.”

It wasn’t an easy night, however. The Trenton Titans put up a good fight against the Royals, but once they secured the win, the team piled into the locker room to await their fate as they watched the Cyclones beat the Chicago Express in overtime.

“I’m not going to lie,” Tifu said. “I was five minutes away to cry. I couldn’t believe I was five minutes away to pack and be home by Monday. Best feeling ever. Best group of guys. What I’ve just been through, I still have goosebumps.”

It wasn’t without heart-stopping drama as Cincinnati, unaware of the Royals’ win, pulled their goalie with roughly two minutes remaining in the game in hope of a regulation win to send them to the playoffs.

“They didn’t know we won, so they thought they still had a chance to win in regulation,” goaltender Karel St-Laurent said. “That was a hard time. We were really stressed. Good things happen. We had faith in Cincinnati.”

For at least one player in the locker room, he couldn’t stand to watch their outcome in someone else’s hands.

“I didn’t watch; I couldn’t watch,” forward Casey Haines said. “I can’t take it. I was trying to eat, just trying not to pay attention.”

St-Laurent received his first back-to-back start since Feb. 22 and 24 with Mark Owuya currently up with the Toronto Marlies.

“Obviously I haven’t played for a long time, but that’s my job,” St-Laurent said. “As a goalie, you never know when someone’s going to get hurt or called up, especially some great goalies like Owuya and [Jussi] Rynnas. I was ready. I always worked hard. Now it’s a new season and I’m ready to go. We’ll see what happens. If I get the net, I’ll be ready. I’m ready to win some games for the Royals.”

The Royals started out timid looking, afraid to make the wrong move that could cost them the season. Things started to settle down as the game went on.

The Royals scored the all-important opening goal in the game at 8:36 of the first. Ian O’Connor skated down the left side and cut toward the net. His shot was stopped by goaltender Dave Caruso, but the rebound kicked back out to him and O’Connor did a spin-o-rama around a Titans defender and sent the puck across the crease where a hard-charging Cox tapped it in for his first as a Royal and the 1-0 lead.

The home team shook off whatever jitters they were showing and came out strong in the second. While killing an interference penalty to Louis Liotti, O’Connor broke in short-handed and scored five-hole after the puck trickled through 1:41 into the period.

The Royals were at it again 29 seconds later on a 3-on-1. After a little give-and-go with Denny Urban, Cox scored his second of the night to make it 3-0 Royals.

Ray DiLauro finally broke through for the Titans at 8:53 with his shot from the slot, but the Royals answered right back with a snipe from Tifu 64 seconds later to restore the three-goal lead.

The Titans would get within two again from Drew Akins at 13:51. Things got uneasy for the Royals with 25.1 left in the period when Mark Armstrong scored on a rebound to make it 4-3.

Fans were left cringing on the edge of their seats for the majority of the third as neither team was able to get on the board. At 15:50, Urban created some breathing room with his goal, but it would be short lived as the Titans once again came back 67 seconds later off a tally from Adam Presizniuk.

But it was Cox who sealed the win for the Royals as he completed a hat trick with 42.2 seconds left in the game.

The Royals have little time to celebration as they are set to face the No. 1-seeded Elmira Jackals on Tuesday night in Reading.

“Elmira has no wins and we have no wins,” Tifu said. “It’s a brand new season, but for right now, the guys have the right to celebrate a little bit and be proud of what we just did.”

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Categories: ECHL, Ice Hockey, Sports

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