Wrapping up the 2011-12 Reading Royals

All is now quiet inside the Sovereign Center as the 2011-12 season has come to an end for the Royals. (Candice Monhollan)

All is now quiet inside the Sovereign Center as the 2011-12 season has come to an end for the Royals. (Candice Monhollan)

After holding a 2-0 series lead in the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs, the Reading Royals were unable to secure the last win they needed and were eliminated in the decisive Game 5 Monday night by the Elmira Jackals.

Now that the dust has settled, emotions have cooled off and the players have packed up and left, it’s time to look back at the season that was in 2011-12.

REGULAR SEASON STRUGGLES
After a promising 2-0 start in the preseason, fans quickly had their eyes opened to see a team that was going to be so-so throughout the regular season.

The Royals continually had a pattern of win two, lose two, win one, lose two, win two, lose one. Back and forth, all season long, they hovered around .500.

Then came the harsh reality that the team may not even be good enough to make the playoffs when, from Nov. 18 through Dec. 8, the Royals were unable to win a single game, losing nine straight and dropping them to last in the Atlantic Division.

They turned things around against the Wheeling Nailers and after another win and a loss, put together a string of four straight victories, before falling back into the old win one, lose one pattern again.

After two bad losses to the Jackals over the first weekend of March, the playoff window significantly shrunk for the Royals with just 12 games remaining in the season, and the majority of them were at home, where the team struggled mightily.

REMARKABLE FINISH
Head coach Larry Courville wasn’t content to sit back and let things ride out and took to the phones to inject the team with new life. Out went Rob Kwiet, Dennis McCauley and Ryan Cruthers. In came Chris Doyle, Ian O’Connor, Colten Hayes and Ethan Cox.

The moves, combined with the drive to make the playoffs, sparked the Royals to go on an unbelievable 9-2-1 run to close out the regular season and put them one point out of eighth place.

The team huddled in the locker room following the 6-4 victory in their last game to watch the outcome of the Cincinnati CyclonesChicago Express game. The team erupted in celebration with Cincinnati’s overtime win that put the Royals into the playoffs.

PLAYOFF DISAPPOINTMENT
For a team that went 15-17-1-3 at home during the regular season, the Royals surprised everyone and came out and won the first two games in the Conference Quarterfinals against the Jackals. Bounces were going their way in the first game and in the second one, they elevated their play more and held a 2-0 series stranglehold.

It all changed when the series shifted north to Elmira, where the Jackals were 25-11 in their barn over the regular season. With their backs against the wall, the Jackals fought back and used their well-known third period pressure to gain the advantage in the last three games to rally back and knock the Royals out of the playoffs.

Mikael Bedard dives to the ice after scoring an overtime winner that also was his third of the night. (Reading Royals)

Mikael Bedard dives to the ice after scoring an overtime winner that also was his third of the night. (Reading Royals)

MEMORABLE GAMES AND MOMENTS

Nov. 13 – Olivier Labelle becomes Royals’ all-time leader in goals
Labelle is a player who’s not afraid to get in front of the net and fight for his goals, so it comes as no surprise that he became the all-time leader when he scored the 54th of his career as a Royal in a 6-2 win over the Jackals.

Dec. 28 – Cruthers becomes Royals’ all-time leader in points
Cruthers made Royals history that night when an assist on Kwiet’s goal was his 145th point of his Royals career, making him the all-time leader in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Jackals.

Feb. 10 – Thrilling last second overtime win
An overtime game-winning goal can’t possibly be any closer than this one was. Yannick Tifu scored the winner with what was probably just a millisecond left. The goal horn went off at the same time as the buzzer, but the Royals left no doubt as they celebrated on the ice and headed down the locker room as the Jackals stayed out to try and protest the goal.

Feb. 18 – Royals’ first shutout of the season
The Royals finally were able to get their first shutout of the season with a 4-0 win over the Nailers during the annual Pink in the Rink game. It was an odd way to get the first, though, as Jussi Rynnas was slated to start, but his skate broke as he came out during player introductions. Karel St-Laurent instead started and once Rynnas’ skate was fixed, he took over the game, so it went down as a shared shutout between the two.

Feb. 25 – Rynnas’ first shutout as a Royal
It was a big win for several reason. For one, it was Rynnas’ first shutout on his own. Second, it was a win over a tough opponent, the Greenville Road Warriors. And finally, it was the first game the Royals won all season without having to score three or more goals.

March 9 – Come-from-behind shootout win
It was the first game the new-look Royals took the ice after Courville’s major trades. Things weren’t looking good as the Royals went down 4-1 to the Toledo Walleye early in the third period, but the team battled back to tie it with 53.5 seconds left in regulation. The Royals completed the comeback in the shootout.

March 17 – Mikael Bedard‘s hat trick on St. Patrick’s Day
What’s better than winning $10,000? Winning $10,000 by just watching a hockey game. It was an exciting, back-and-forth game that went into overtime, where Bedard became the hero with his game-winning goal in overtime that also capped off a hat trick that won a lucky fan $10,000. His celebration was also just as memorable as he dove and slid across the ice on his stomach.

March 28 – Mark Owuya‘s 55-save shutout
In his second shutout of the season for the Royals, Owuya was beyond spectacular as he turned aside shot after shot en route to a 3-0 victory over the Nailers. There were several times when it was all Owuya as the Royals committed some terrible turnovers and left players wide open in front of the net or in the slot, but nothing fazed the goaltender.

March 31 – Cox’s hat trick on last day of the regular season and the anticipation of the Cincinnati-Chicago game
The Royals needed to win the final game of the regular season to have any hopes of making the playoffs. The Royals knew it, St-Laurent knew it. They faced the last place Trenton Titans, but it wasn’t an easy game. The Titans kept fighting back, but Cox sealed the win and completed his hat trick with 42.2 seconds left in the game. The players then waited in anticipation if they would make the playoffs as they watched the end of the Cincinnati-Chicago game on the television in the locker room. It was a celebration inside the room and in the stands as fans stayed to find out their fate.

Kenny Ryan was a standout rookie this season for the Royals. (Mike Ashmore)

Kenny Ryan was a standout rookie this season for the Royals. (Mike Ashmore)

AWARDS
All of the awards are based on my opinions and the stats are from the players spent as a Royal.

Player with best rapport with the media
Ryan Cruthers

Most improved player
Karel St-Laurent

Outstanding rookie
Kenny Ryan

Forward who best excels in defensive aspects
Ethan Cox

Player with the highest plus-minus
Denny Urban (plus-15)

Led team in total points
Yannick Tifu (59 points)

Top goal scorer
Olivier Labelle (27 goals)

Best defenseman
Marc Cantin

Top goaltender
Mark Owuya

Most valuable player
Yannick Tifu

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Categories: ECHL, Ice Hockey, Sports

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