For the second year in a row, the Reading Royals fall to the Newfoundland Growlers in the North Division Finals, ending their run for the Kelly Cup in the second round. This season saw significant changes that showed extensively as it progressed.
This was the first season under head coach James Henry who had served as the team’s assistant coach in the 2021-2022 season. The move came after the previous head coach, Kirk MacDonald, stepped away to become head coach of the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League. Long-time fans of the Royals were a little unsure of the coaching change, but the season proved to be a strong one for the young coach. Coach Henry and assistant coach Jason Binkley led the Royals in their first season together to the Kelly Cup playoffs, ending in second place at the season’s end in the North Division under the Newfoundland Growlers. During their time in the playoffs, the Royals played eleven total games, winning five and losing four with two overtime losses making their win percentage 45.5%. They scored a total of 38 goals with one shorthanded goal and had 42 goals scored against them. The three most notable players of the postseason were Evan Barratt with five goals and nine assists, Jacob Gaucher with six goals and six assists, and Charlie Gerard with four goals and six assists.
During the postseason, there seemed to be a continued issue with the Royals that became a critical factor in winning or losing games: the power play. In the postseason, the Royals had 42 total power play opportunities but only managed seven total power play goals making their power play at a 17% rate. During the regular reason, the power play was also a huge struggling point, with a 19% at the end of the regular season. Arguably this was the most significant issue the team seemed to face, which raises a few questions as to what needs to be changed going into next season that are going to better those chances at capitalizing on the power play.
This season had many individuals who stood out on the ice, including points leader Charlie Gerard, Max Newton, Jacob Gaucher, Evan Barratt, and Alec Butcher, just to name the top five, but one of the biggest presences this season was goaltender, Pat Nagle. Nagle was a huge fan favorite in the 2021-2022 season that carried over heavily into this season, as the goalie situation for the Royals was a bit bumpy at some points. There was a total of twelve goalies that were signed to the team this year: Zach Alvarado, Brandon Kasel, Trevor Martin, Brody Claeys, Josh Boyko, Matt Vernon, Pat Nagle, Nolan Maier, Kaden Fulcher, Bailey Brkin, Justin Kapelmaster, and Ryan Kenny. The goalie that saw the most action for the Royals was Nagle playing in 28 games in the regular season and ten games in the postseason. During Nagle’s regular season, he maintained a GAA of 2.91 and a SV% of 0.908. He faced a total of 770 shots and allowed 71 goals. During the postseason, his GAA was 3.38 with a SV% of 0.890. He faced 300 total shots and allowed 33 goals. Questions arose among fans regarding where goaltender Nolan Maier was during the postseason, as he was much anticipated to return to the Royals after the Lehigh Valley Phantoms were eliminated from playoffs. Maier had been the Royals’ second goalie besides Pat Nagle, that spent the season up in the AHL with the Phantoms playing in 24 games with the Royals during the regular season. Maier only saw one game in the postseason, with Nagle serving in the other ten. It raised the question of whether the postseason results would have been different had the goalie situation been more evenly split.
With the 2022-2023 season concluded, the process starts all over again, but before that can happen, it is important to consider some expectations for next season. Obviously, the biggest expectation is to find some way to either not face the Growlers in the playoffs or find some way to beat them. For one thing, Royals fans have spoken and are not fond in the slightest to continue to lose in the same round of playoffs two seasons in a row. It raises questions on what can be done differently to fight back such a strong team as Newfoundland. Will it start by fixing the power play that the team struggled with for most of the season and postseason? Or does it begin with team leadership? Who is going to be the push to get the team to continue to strive even if the score of the game is 6-1? Some have even asked who should stay and who should go in order to see those changes in the game and get the wins against the tougher teams like Newfoundland. All of these are questions raised with the season now over, which can only be answered by seeing what the team will do in October for the 2023-2024 season.