Washington's ECHL affiliate in Kelly Cup Finals Saturday

Posted on May 17, 2013 by John Walton

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History could be on the verge of repeating itself in the Washington farm system this weekend, as a Pennsylvania based minor league affiliate pursues a championship in its first year of hitching their franchise's wagon to the Capitals.

In 2005, Washington switched American Hockey League affiliates, moving its top prospects from Portland, Maine to Hershey, PA. The relationship between the Capitals and Bears has proved to be an incredibly fruitful one over the last eight seasons, from both a player development and championship perspective. Before Mike Green, Eric Fehr, Michal Neuvirth, Braden Holtby, Karl Alzner and John Carlson became fixtures in Washington’s lineup, they earned their way to the NHL by skating for Hershey.

While developing down on the farm, all the players listed were part of a Calder Cup championship squad while in Chocolatetown. With three championships and four Calder Cup finals appearances in five seasons from 2006-2010, Washington’s farm system excelled at both winning and producing future NHL players.

In the very first year of the partnership between Washington and Hershey, head coach Bruce Boudreau led the Bears to a Calder Cup title, the franchise’s first since 1997. As the Portland Pirates the season before, Washington's AHLers failed to even make the poseason. One year later, the Bears defeated the Milwaukee Admirals four games to two to win the Calder Cup. Milwaukee, coached by current Winnipeg Jets bench boss Claude Noel, had a couple of players you may have heard of. Goaltender Pekka Rinne lost four of six games, and was pulled in the first period in the deciding Game 6 at the Bradley Center. Defenseman Shea Weber got his first pro playoff experience that season. Current NHLers Rich Peverley, Greg Zanon, Scottie Upshall and Jordin Tootoo also played for Milwaukee that spring. But Hershey, in its first go-round under the Washington flag, took home the title.

This season, there’s another first-year affiliate of the Capitals looking to replicate a championship season within the Washington organization.

The Reading Royals, Washington’s ECHL affiliate (double A if you prefer, to borrow a phrase from Major League Baseball), partnered with the Capitals last summer. The move, after a lengthy stay with the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays, was made in large part for geographic reasons. Reading is less than three hours northwest of downtown D.C., and only 45 minutes from Giant Center in Hershey. The move has certainly helped to bring the entire Washington organization closer together, and allows the hockey operations department easier access to watch prospects in person.

Geographic proximity is nice, development is better, and winning is the ultimate goal throughout the Washington organization. This weekend, t

he Royals are looking to win a Kelly Cup championship in its first year in the Washington family, much like Hershey did in 2006. The Eastern Conference champion Royals will square off with the Stockton Thunder, the Western Conference playoff champ, beginning Saturday night in downtown Reading.

The Royals entered the Kelly Cup playoffs as the top seed in the East, finishing a 72-game season with an impressive 46-19-3-4 record. After winning just one of its first six games to begin the season back in October, Reading rolled to a 45-14-3-3 mark the rest of the way to wrap up top regular season honors in the East. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who saw action in two games for the Capitals this season, began the year in Reading and posted a 19-5-1 record in a team high 26 games this season. With his promotion to Hershey, other goaltenders have picked up the slack, but the man between the pipes now is Riley Gill, a four-year standout at Western Michigan in his college days, and now 9-3 in the postseason with the Royals.  

The Thunder didn’t have the top record in the Western Conference, but have gotten hot at the right time. Stockton is in the Kelly Cup Finals after edging the Las Vegas Wranglers four games to three in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, the Alaska Aces four games to two in the Semifinals, and the Idaho Steelheads four games to one in the Western Conference Finals. Reading defeated the Greenville Road Warriors in the Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals four games to one, the Florida Everblades four games to three in the Semis, and the Cincinnati Cyclones in the Eastern Conference Finals four games to one.

Scoring star Yannick Tifu, an AHL/ECHL journeyman in his long pro career, leads the Royals in scoring during the playoffs with nine goals and 17 points in 17 games. Defenseman Patrick Wellar, who won a Calder Cup in the AHL with Hershey in 2010, played for the Royals during the regular season and rejoined Reading after the Bears were eliminated last week. Stan Galiev, a Washington third round pick, 86th overall in 2010, has three goals and nine points this postseason for the Royals. Defenseman Brett Flemming, selected by the Caps in the fifth round of the ’09 draft, has enjoyed a solid postseason run with nine points in 17 games thus far.

If you’re thinking about heading north of the Mason-Dixon line and catching the games, you can call the Royals office (610-898-PUCK) or log on to the team’s website for more information at www.royalshockey.com.

If you’re not able to make it to Pennsylvania, we’ll have video coverage on www.monumentalnetwork.com all weekend from the Sovereign Center.

Kelly Cup Finals Schedule:


Game One:

Saturday, May 18 (7:05 pm) at

Sovereign Center, Reading, PA

 

Game Two:

Sunday, May 19 (4:05 pm) at

Sovereign Center, Reading, PA

 

Game Three:

Tuesday, May 21 at 7:00 pm (Pacific)

Stockton Arena, Stockton, CA

 

Game Four:

Friday, May 24 at 7:30 pm (Pacific)

Stockton Arena, Stockton, CA

 

Game Five (IF NECESSARY):

Saturday, May 25 at 7:30 pm (Pacific)

Stockton Arena, Stockton, CA

 

Game Six (IF NECESSARY):

Tuesday, May 28 at 7:05 pm

Sovereign Center, Reading, PA

 

Game Seven (IF NECESSARY):

Wednesday, May 29 at 7:05 pm

Sovereign Center, Reading, PA


Posted in: Sports
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