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O’Connor Returns, Royals Even Series
Photos by Taylor Lewis
“We gotta make sure we’re not going out and thinking, ‘Oh, they´re better than us.’ We gotta think that we’re better than them.” –captain Yannick Tifu
After dropping the first game of the ECHL’s Eastern Conference semifinals, the Reading Royals rebounded with a 3-2 win over the Florida Everblades Saturday night.
As opposed to the previous series’ battle of hits, the second round is proving to be more a contest of skill. The reigning Kelly Cup champions defeated the Royals Friday night (4-3) after coach Larry Courville said his team “sat back a little” early on.
The ECHL’s regular season top-scorer, Mathieu Roy, led his team in trying to carry the momentum into Saturday’s game, tilting the Royals’ ice in their favor in the opening minutes.
Ethan Cox’s tripping penalty gave the Everblades the chance to capitalize. But the Royals’ aggressive penalty kill unit forced their opponents back into their zone. As Mike Ratchuk tried to break out, Kirk MacDonald attacked, turning the over for a breakaway. Freezing goaltender Jesse Deckert, MacDonald roofed the puck for a shorthanded goal.
Post-season lead scorer Yannick Tifu (tied with Alaska Aces’ Bobby Hughes), gave the Royals a 2-0 lead with a power play goal from the left faceoff circle five minutes later.
“I gotta give credit to a lot of my teammates right now. They’re giving some nice pass[es],” said the captain of his 12 points (8g, 4a) in seven games.
But the Everblades wouldn’t leave the ice without making a mark. David Rutherford cut Reading’s lead to one, slipping one through Mark Owuya’s pads late in the period.
The second period had the most bite, with playoff tension showing between the first and fourth seeds. Brett Flemming’s odd-angle shot from the left side went off Tifu’s skate and in the net 18 seconds into the period. After letting in three goals on 14 shots, Deckert was pulled for former Ohio State Buckeye, Brady Hjelle.
In his first game with the Royals since leaving for the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs in February, Ian O’Connor wasted no time getting to know his opponents. After a rebound off Hjelle’s pads, O’Connor and defenseman Charles Landry came out of the scrum throwing punches.
Later in the period, Roy would eliminate an Everblades power play after another scrum. With Cox heading to the box again, the Florida captain shoved a Royal as he went to get his teammate’s glove.
“I think there’s a strong dislike brewing between the two teams,” said MacDonald of the growing animosity.
While Reading would end the period on the penalty kill, they would survive into the final 20 minutes.
What they didn’t know was if they survive the final minutes of the game. “I almost had a heart attack the last 45 [seconds],” said MacDonald.
Forward Corey Trivino brought Florida within one late in the period. With Hjelle pulled, O’Connor had a chance at an empty net goal, but got only the clang of a post.
“I wish I had like a good joke or an excuse why it happened. I just straight missed it. It’s pretty embarrassing,” said the New Hampshire native.
But the Royals and their fans were celebrating as the clock reached zero with the series tied 1-1.
The series travels to Florida for the next three games. If necessary, the teams will return to Pennsylvania April 30.