For the first time in 12 seasons, the King of the Jungle will get to wear his crown and roar some approval from the Schuylkill Valley to the Pacific Ocean.
Brett Flemming, Ian O’Connor, T.J. Syner and Stan Galiev rippled the net in a four-goal second-period burst which helped Reading to a 6-0 victory over the Stockton Thunder, giving the Royals a Game 5 triumph and their first Kelly Cup title.
Syner added a pair of assists and was a game-best plus-5, elevating his league-best total to plus-22.
For the visitors, who endured a minor setback on Friday with a 4-3 loss which short-circuited dreams of a sweep, it’s ultimate vindication after a shaky 1-5-1 start to the regular season which blossomed into a 16-6 playoff finish.
Mark Mitera scored in the first period, Joel Champagne added a third-period tally, and Riley Gill capped a memorable postseason by making 29 saves for his second whitewash of the series and fourth in these playoffs, earning Most Valuable Player honors. His goals-against, which stood at 2.02 coming in, plummeted to 1.91 with a save percentage of .930.
“This is just a very special moment. I’m very proud to be a part of it,” said Gill, who had been laboring in the SPHL with the Louisiana Ice Gators before getting the call to replace the red-hot Philipp Grubauer once he was called up to Hershey.
The Saturday night victory completes the regional trifecta of champions, as the now-disappeared Trenton Titans won in 2005, and the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies hit the heights two years prior.
Tyler Bunz was placed in the unenviable position of having to rescue the Thunder’s season on home ice, but was dented in defeat for all six goals on 34 shots. Olivier Roy was out with an upper-body injury which seemed to stem from hitting the back of his head on the goal post in the previous game.
Stockton will end the year with a 13-10 postseason mark.
“I let the guys know I was proud of them,” Thunder coach Matt Thomas said. “What a group. It’s a shame a group that played so well and did so much but we didn’t get a chance to be champions. That’s what’s most upsetting.”
After three affiliation changes, from the original Los Angeles Kings to the Boston Bruins and now the Washington Capitals, one thing remains constant: the Royals are the first and only Pennsylvania-based club to win the ECHL title. The late, lamented Johnstown Chiefs made it to the championship round in 1989 but lost to the Carolina Thunderbirds.
For head coach Larry Courville, an “original” Royal as a player, it’s a burden released from his shoulders after enduring that historic loss to Cincinnati three years ago, a second-round ouster two years back and a first-round exit last season.
“It cost us about a grand per guy to come here, so it shows how dedicated our fans are. I think they deserved it, the players deserved it, and the coaches and organization deserve it,” Courville said. “These are two teams that deserved a championship. We got some bounces, played hard and our goalie made some big plays. It’s a great thing for our team.”
Captain Yanick Tifu ended up with one assist, bringing his team-high point total to 25 (12G, 13A).
The parade will take place on Wednesday evening, starting in Wyomissing and ending at Sovereign Center.
Flemming opened the second-period onslaught before the three-minute mark of the middle period with a successful right-wing rush, and then O’Connor broke the spirit of the hosts with 6:28 played, when he broke in alone and beat Bunz for a short-handed tally.
Syner followed up his own rebound and beat Bunz with his ninth of the postseason boosted Reading to a 4-0 advantage with 6:17 on the clock and Galiev made it a five-goal spread almost 90 seconds later thanks to a power-play strike from the left circle.
Champagne capped the rout with 3:25 on the game clock, tipping home a Syner chance.
Shots were even at 11 apiece in the opening 20 minutes, a clean and crisp period, but Reading picked up the lone score thanks to several fluke bounces on a Mitera shot which found space through Bunz with 2:55 remaining.
Notes: Reading is the 17th different ECHL franchise to win a title, and the 12th to take home the Kelly Cup since its introduction…Syner ended up second on the Royals in scoring, totaling 21 points (9G, 12A) in 22 games, while Nikita Kashirsky placed third with 20 points…Barry Almeida was a team-worst minus-7 in 15 postseason appearances…The last four Kelly Cup series have been decided in five games, with Cincinnati (2010), Alaska (2011) and Florida (2012) doing the trick…Ryan Hayes led Stockton with 24 points (9G, 15A)…Max Strang was signed to be the Thunder backup…Royals defenseman Patrick Wellar became just the second player in league history to win three ECHL championships, having won with Alaska (2006) and South Carolina (2009)…Stockton was blanked at home for the second time in the 2013 playoffs.