It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Last October, the ECHL Reading Royals struggled out of the starting gates of the 2012-13 regular season in their first campaign as the Washington Capitals’ ECHL affiliate. But with Saturday night’s convincing 6-0 win over the Stockton Thunder in Stockton, the Royals have claimed the first Kelly Cup championship of their 12-year tenure in the circuit.
Goaltender Riley Gill finished off the Thunder in style with a 29-save shutout in the clinching Game 5. Gill was named the MVP of the Kelly Cup playoffs. He had four shutouts and permitted two or fewer goals in 11 of the 18 postseason starts he made. Gill was 13-4 with a 1.91 GAA and a .930 save pct. during the playoffs.
Way back in October, Reading staggered out to a 1-5-0-1 start on the season, scoring just 15 goals in those first seven games. With head coach Larry Courville running the bench for his fourth full season, the Royals rebounded in a big way. Starting with a 4-2 win at Trenton on Nov. 2 – the first game in which Reading managed to score more than three goals in a game – the Royals went on a spree.
Reading reeled off 11 straight victories, outscoring its opposition by a combined 41-22 in those games. Caps goaltending prospect Philipp Grubauer won nine of those games with Washington free agent signee Brandon Anderson claiming the other two victories in goal.
The Royals ran up another eight straight wins in succession in December as part of a 10-0-1-0 run in that month. Reading enjoyed another eight-game winning streak in March and never went more than two games without collecting at least a point after the start of November.
From Nov. 2 to Feb. 2, the Royals never suffered successive regulation setbacks. The Royals finished the season at 46-19-3-4, and they were 45-14-3-3 in the final 65 games of the season. Reading established franchise records for wins (46) and points (99) in a season in 2012-13.
With the first overall seed in the Eastern Conference, the Royals drew the Greenville Road Warriors as their first-round opponent in the 2013 Kelly Cup playoffs. Reading took out the Road Warriors in five games, winning each contest via the shutout route. Gill started and blanked Greenville in the first two games of the set, and then Mark Owuya whitewashed the Road Warriors in Games 4 and 5 to set up a second-round date with the defending Kelly Cup champion Florida Everblades.
The Royals were down 1-0 and 2-1 in the series against Florida, but Reading persevered and toppled the defending champs in a full seven-game set. The Royals won Game 7 at Sovereign Center in Reading on May 1, with Gill making 24 saves to ensure a 4-1 win.
Cincinnati was up next as the Royals reached the third round of the Kelly Cup playoffs for the fourth time in franchise history. The Royals won that set in five games, winning the first two and the last two, sandwiching those pairs of victories around a Game 3 overtime loss in Cincinnati.
On May 18, the Royals hosted Stockton in Game 1 of the Kelly Cup final, Reading’s first-ever Kelly Cup final appearance. The Royals prevailed 6-5 in overtime and also won Game 2 the following day by a 4-0 count. With the series shifting to Stockton for Games 3-5, the Royals needed only to take two of three games in California to win the crown. Reading won Games 3 and 5 to come home with the Cup.
Forty-nine players suited up for Reading at some point in 2012-13, and 23 different players dressed for at least one playoff game. Each of the 21 skaters who played in the playoffs for the Royals registered at least a point.
Royals captain Yannick Tifu led the ECHL in playoff scoring with 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists). First-year pro T.J. Syner was tied for third with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) and Nikita Kashirsky tied for fifth in the circuit with 20 points (five goals, 15 assists). Syner led all ECHL rookies in playoff scoring.
Royals defenseman Brett Flemming was the only ECHL defenseman with more than two playoff goals this spring; Flemming had five. With a dozen points, Flemming and teammate Mark Mitera (two goals, 10 assists) tied for the league lead in playoff scoring among defensemen. Reading rearguard Dustin Stevenson was fourth among league defensemen in playoff scoring with nine points (one goal, eight assists).
Royals defenseman Patrick Wellar – a third-round Washington draft choice in 2002 – won his third Kelly Cup championship this spring. He played for Kelly Cup championship teams in Alaska (in 2006) and South Carolina (2009). Wellar was also a member of the 2010 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears.
The Royals started 1-5-0-1 way back in October, but they finished with nine wins in their last 11 games of the Kelly Cup playoffs and with a sturdy 16-6 mark during the 2013 postseason. As a result, the good citizens of Reading will be treated to a Kelly Cup championship parade down Penn St. on Wednesday evening. The state of Pennsylvania becomes the ninth different state to produce a Kelly Cup champion and the 11th different state to claim an ECHL title.
Congratulations to coach Courville, the Royals, the Reading organization and their fans on a memorable and wonderful 2012-13 season.