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A Royal Farewell
It’s been a rough spring for Caps fans. Washington missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years, and Hershey missed the playoffs for the first time in nine. Fans saw both head coaches pack their bags, as well as the general manager in Washington. In the midst of this turnover, there’s yet more bad news for local Caps fans – the one franchise affiliate who made the playoffs this spring is no longer going to be a member of the Capitals’ organization. The Reading Royals have announced that they intend to join the Philadelphia Flyers family for the 2014-15 season.
It’s unclear who made the decision to part ways, and at present no official comment is available from either team. The relationship between Hershey and Reading is remains uncertain, as well. Newly named Royals’ President Drew Bell has stated that the Royals are “still in communication with Hershey,” and that they’re “not taking anything off the table,” per Jason Guarente of the Reading Eagle. Because there are fewer teams in the ECHL than the NHL and AHL, teams are permitted to have more than one affiliate, though it’s unlikely that an ECHL team will affiliate with an AHL team and not its parent team.
It’s a shame to see the ties end, the proximity allowed for perks on both ends of the agreement – Hershey routinely sent developing players down to Reading to pick up ice time when the Bears had a night off, and call-ups were able to sleep in their own beds when they practiced with the Bears. Royals Head Coach Larry Courville has said that he would still like to help develop players through loan with Hershey, even if the affiliation isn’t resigned. Should the Caps not secure another ECHL affiliate, it’s also possible that the occasional Caps player could wander through the Royals’ ranks as well – several teams have been known to foster players wherever a berth can be found, instead of creating a formal affiliation.
Regardless of where things go from here, fans in Washington should carry fond memories of the brief affiliation. The Royals had two record-setting years while partnered with the Caps, including the team’s first Kelly Cup victory in 2013. They went 92-41-5, winning the Atlantic Division Crown in both seasons while also being the top team in the Eastern Conference. They were 17-8-2 in back to back appearances in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, including a 16-5-1 run to the Kelly Cup in their first year working with the Caps and Bears.
Professional hockey is a game of transitions, and affiliations are no exception. Here at Capitals Outsider, we were sincere when we wished the South Carolina Stingrays well two years ago, and we’re equally sincere when we now wish the boys in purple every success. The one difference is that when the Caps said farewell to the Stingrays, the Royals were already in the wings. This time around, there is no clear ECHL successor to present for the 2014-15 season.
M. Richter contributed to this report.