Joel Ward meets fans, donates blood, and talks about his bobblehead.
With Season Drawing to a Close, Royals Continue to Lead ECHL-East
The Royals celebrate a goal over the Fort Wayne Komets. Four of the five players in this photo have since been called up by an AHL team (Photo Credit: M. Richter)
Despite the rockiest start in this year’s ECHL, the Reading Royals hit their stride late last fall and have hardly slowed down since. Two games shy of the season’s 3/4 mark, the Royals sit atop the Eastern Conference with a record of 33-13-3-3 and 72 points in their pockets. They’re currently just three points behind the league leading Alaska Aces.
The accomplishment itself is noteworthy, especially when one considers that the Royals just barely squeaked into the playoffs last year on a tie-breaking technicality, three wins and eight points ahead of where they stand now. This season, the Royals have not only managed to succeed, but they’ve done it while rotating 22 players through their roster. TWENTY-TWO. That’s a full lineup, with healthy scratches to spare.
While the Royals aren’t the hardest hit in their league – numbers 2 and 3 in the East have turned over a combined 52 players – they’re one of the few to have such high numbers while claiming an exclusive affiliation. The turnover itself is due to a combination of call ups, trades, injuries, and temporary signings to fill in gaps caused by the call-ups.
Both of their 2013 ECHL All Stars are permanently lost to the AHL (Philipp Grubauer & Denny Urban). Another half-dozen players who’ve skated with the Royals this year are currently rostered with the Hershey Bears as call-ups (Barry Almeida, Evan Barlow, Danick Paquette, Matt Pope, T.J. Syner, and Patrick Wellar). To round things out, at least four unaffiliated AHL teams have been poaching the remaining high-performers in the Royals line-up (Worcester Sharks, Houston Aeros, Toronto Marlies, and most recently the Binghamton Senators).
Unlike the ECHL’s Western Conference leaders, Reading will have to wait a while until they can declare themselves clinched for playoffs – 26 points, at the moment, though the number will drop if Fort Wayne sticks to their .529 winning percentage.
To be fair, it’s fantastic that these players are getting the chance to advance their careers and show what they can do. Capitals Outsider wishes them all the luck in the world in their attempts at securing an AHL berth. That being said, it’s rough on the Royals – even if a certain amount of coming-and-going is to be expected in the ECHL.