Jeff Halpern, Martin Erat and Mike Ribeiro play their former teammates.
With Gill’s Shutout, Royals Are Two Game-winners From Kelly Cup
Alex Berry scored his third game-winning goal of the Royals’ Kelly Cup run Sunday afternoon. Photo by Taylor Lewis.
“If we play like we did tonight, we have a really good chance of winning the Kelly Cup.” - defenseman Brett Flemming
Nikita Kashirsky got his first last night.
Alex Berry had his third Sunday afternoon. The opening tally in the 4-0 shutout of the Stockton Thunder gave the hometown team a 2-0 series lead in the Kelly Cup Finals.
Though Berry’s goal came early in the game, it signaled the beginning of an unraveling for a Stockton team that hasn’t been shut out since the first round.
“It’s great that we got the two wins…we’re gonna have a real test going to Stockton,” said Berry.
Game-winning goals usually cannot be determined early. In the case of the Thunder, who overcame three straight losses to Las Vegas and the ECHL’s top team, the Alaska Aces, a win isn’t set for the team that gets to the back of the net first.
“That’s what we talked about when we went up 3-0 after the first period, is ‘This team comes hard, they play 60 minutes—make sure that we’re playing the score right now 0-0,’” said coach Larry Courville after the game of Stockton’s endurance.
But Courville’s team, in the regular season, scored first in 41 games, winning 32 of them. With Sunday’s win, the Royals have seen one defeat in the postseason after opening up the game. It marks the fifth time that that goal has won the match.
On the other side, the Thunder have won eight games in which their opponent scored first, including climbing back from a 3-0 deficit to stave off elimination in the Western Conference quarterfinals.
In Game 2 of the Kelly Cup Finals, Berry’s opening goal was the Royals answer to a show of skill by the Thunder. Having returned to their zone several times, the goaltending of Riley Gill helped Reading survive the onslaught and propel his team to the opposite end of the ice. As Evan Barlow brought the puck behind the net, Berry snuck in from the right wing and caught a pass to shock the Thunder.
While Stockton continued pressing, the skill of the Royals netminder kept them at bay. Thanks to Gill’s sharp eye and reflexes, even a Matt Bergland breakaway stayed out of the net. Acknowledging Stockton’s skill, said the 28-year-old goalie, “I think if they would’ve got one or two it would’ve been a different game here. I think they need that first spark.”
Defenseman Brett Flemming added to the Royals lead five minutes later with a slapshot from the blueline. The breaking point though, came by the karma of TJ Syner.
The five-foot-nine forward was flipped by Thunder defenseman Nathan Deck in the Royals’ offensive zone, a move he didn’t take quietly. While the initial back-and-forth behind the play was ignored, Deck’s retaliation was the last straw for the officials, who sent him to the box for roughing.
Deck watched from behind the glass as Brock Shelgren’s shot found Syner in front of the net, putting his team down by three.
The final goal from Barlow, a weak bad-angle shot from the right corner, would complete Olivier Roy’s night in net. Tyler Bunz took the visitors’ crease for the third period, his first action since April 9.
After a series of overtime games, some in which Reading showed forms of exhaustion, the team is happy for a dominating win in regulation.
“We’ve had a few of those games—ones we let slip away, ones where we’ve came back—but to win one in regulation, 4-0, feels really good for the guys,” said Syner.
Flying out on a high note, the team will travel the furthest it has in the postseason to California. The well-traveled Thunder have only two losses in Stockton Arena, one in regulation and one in overtime.
The Royals will have at least three chances to get a win before the series would be forced to return to Pennsylvania for Games 6 and 7. But with Sunday’s win, the team has seen what they need to do to close the series out west.
Said Flemming, “If we play like we did tonight, we have a really good chance of winning the Kelly Cup.”