By Matt Malinowski
READING, Pa. – Warmth.
That’s the feeling inside Reading Royals general manger Ray Delia when he peers down from his suite and sees fans filling the building.
That’s the feeling inside Delia when he replays all the games and goals from the past four seasons in his mind.
That’s the feeling inside Delia when he gazes at the North Division championship banner the Royals earned last season, and how far this city’s hockey team has come since its inception.
That’s the feeling inside Delia when he thinks about all the people he has worked with in his time in Reading, people who were instrumental in molding the Royals into one of the ECHL’s top draws.
That’s something Delia will feel almost every day when he leaves Reading after the season.
Delia, while sitting by his lonesome in an empty arena a few hours before the opening faceoff Friday, said that he will resign come the completion of the playoffs to take over as the chief operating officer of the ECHL’s Phoenix Roadrunners.
There’s more to Delia’s warmth than steaming hot summers and the prospect of taking a refreshing outdoor swim in February. There’s more to that warmth than Delia returning to Arizona, where he graduated from Arizona State University in 1994.
Part of that warmth comes from the fire and excitement within to get a fresh start with the Roadrunners, who begin their first season in the ECHL next year.
“It’s extremely difficult to leave the relationships and what has been built here,” said Delia, an Illinois native. “At the same token, the opportunity to go home doesn’t really manifest itself that often in this industry.
“I lived there for eight years. I still have a house there. All those factors pointed towards a real unique opportunity to go back. It’s probably the toughest decision I ever had to make. It’s hard to leave people you’ve worked with for five years.”
When asked to point out his most precious memories in his time in Reading, Delia started with the people.
The fans he got to know.
The relationships with those who have been in the Royals organization since Day 1.
Of course, there are plenty of warm memories from the action on the ice. The very first game. All the season openers. The ECHL All-Star Game this year.
“To see our showcase event here in Reading was just tremendous,” a beaming Delia said.
And the Kelly Cup Playoffs run last year, particularly the series against Florida.
Before he leaves, he wouldn’t mind seeing a longer postseason run this year.
But whether or not there’s a championship to celebrate come the final horn, Delia’s run in Reading will end this season.
By choice. A choice he said was as difficult as it gets.
He’ll go from a place that gave him plenty of warm feelings to simply a warm place.
And even though he’s extremely excited about his upcoming challenges in Phoenix, one cold, hard fact hit Delia when talking about his future job.
He gazed down at his sharp blazer, pointed to the lapel bearing a Royals logo and said through a sigh, “It’s hard for me to envision myself without this emblem.”