Following their Game 5 victory over the Mariners in the ECHL North Split Semi-Finals on April 30, Reading returned from Portland, Maine ahead of Game 6 of the series, which was to be held at Santander Arena. Monday.
During their trip, the Royals’ bus broke down Saturday night just outside Worcester, Mass., several hundred miles from Berks County. When the team started calling local hotels hoping to find a place to stay the night, they received the same response.
“They laughed at us,” Reading coach Kirk MacDonald said. “We connected to partner hotels, (and) they laughed at us.”
With all the nearby hotels full, the Royals bus limped into downtown Worcester. Several team members walked to a local hotel, which allowed Reading to sleep on a conference room floor for the night.
“I don’t really know how to describe it,” MacDonald said. “We were laughing like a bunch of 12-year-olds at a slumber party.”
Talk about an engaged group. Bus breaks down on the way back from Portland, ME after a 3in3. All hotels are fully booked, sleep on the conference room floor, return trip takes 21 hours. Grinded out series wins tonight running smokes. @ReadingRoyals @minorleaguemad @spittinchiclets @mattmurley19 pic.twitter.com/Z5qsErrl55
— Kirk MacDonald (@kmacdonald13) May 3, 2022
The Royals were eventually picked up by another bus and returned home on Sunday evening, more than 13 hours after their scheduled arrival time. Despite the travel issues, Reading closed out the series on Monday night with a 2-1 win over the Mariners.
“At that point, we were like, ‘Well, it’s only going to be a good story if we win,'” MacDonald said. “Thank you to our leadership group and the whole group.”
Since their night upstairs at the hotel, the Royals have further embodied their self-proclaimed role as pariahs of the ECHL. Reading had already embraced this fighting spirit during the regular season, creating a post-match tradition in which the player of the match is given a sleeveless shirt that reads “unsuitable for play”.
“We don’t care what other people think,” MacDonald said. “We will find a way to do our job.”
A hard-working team that feels it deserves more respect from across the league, the Royals head into the ECHL North Division final against Newfoundland with something to prove. The series begins with Game 1 on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Game 2 on Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Santander Arena.
“We eat soggy subs and sleep on the floor,” MacDonald said. “That’s who we are. We are the land of misfit toys.
The series between the Royals and the Growlers will amplify the “rags versus riches” juxtaposition between the two franchises. As an affiliate and partner of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL, Newfoundland is supported by monetary and non-monetary resources from the richest hockey franchise in the world.
“They travel better than us,” MacDonald said. “They have more resources than us, (and) that’s exactly what it is.”
The Growlers qualified for the North Division final after beating Trois-Rivières 4-3 in the semi-finals. Newfoundland finished the regular season second in the division behind Reading.
“It’s the second and third best teams in the entire league that play in the second round,” MacDonald said. “Were excited.”
The Growlers, in their third season, have never lost a playoff series. Newfoundland won the Kelly Cup in its inaugural season in 2019 before the 2020 playoffs were canceled. The Growlers pulled out of the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“On the ice, I think we grew up having a healthy dislike for each other,” MacDonald said. “We’ve been waiting to play this series since 2020.”
Despite the dislike, the two teams worked together to provide transportation from Reading to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, for the series, as the two towns are separated by more than 1,200 flying miles. of bird. Due to St. John’s isolated location on the Atlantic coast, both teams must travel through Toronto to reach the coastal city by air.
“They were amazing helping us get up there,” MacDonald said. “Obviously we want to beat them, but it’s a team effort from both groups to make sure we can get the guys where they need to be to play hockey.
The series features a condensed schedule with only three days off. If the series reaches Game 7, both teams will play seven games in 10 days while crossing the Canada-US border twice.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s that time of year when the arena is available,” MacDonald said. “Everyone makes the same grind.”
The two teams have met nine times in the regular season, with the Royals winning five. Reading will look to follow up that success with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals down the line.
“We’re going to go out and do what we do,” MacDonald said. “We know how good they are, but we also know how good we are too.”