By Julie Pelchar
READING, Pa. – Do or die?
The Reading Royals do.
It’s why their heartbeat is as strong as ever heading into Monday’s deciding game of the Eastern Conference finals at Florida’s TECO Arena.
In what has become a recurring theme throughout the playoffs, the Royals won a pair elimination games this week against the Everblades, forcing a Game 5 that sends the winner to the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals against the Idaho Steelheads.
Reading has proven it’s got a knack for winning big games, and the Royals agree there’s a certain je ne sais quoi in the Sovereign Center’s purple dressing room these days.
They’d certainly like to bottle it for their second trip to Florida.
The Royals plan to leave Saturday for Game 5, which will be televised live by WFMZ-TV Channel 69. Disney on Ice ends a five-day stay at TECO Arena Sunday, the reason for the long gap between Game 4 and Game 5.
“It’s a pretty special feeling in that room right now,” said winger Judd Medak, “and when we get into (must-win) situations like this everyone believes in each other.
“We don’t think too much about it. We just go out and play. We can just kind of feel the aura in the whole dressing room. It’s pretty neat.”
Pretty neat, indeed.
Reading’s run in these playoffs has not only made the skin of its diehards full of goose bumps, it’s drawn the attention of Berks County’s marginal hockey fans. Consider the past four weeks.
After getting into the playoffs on the final day, the Royals survived elimination game No. 1 with a 2-1 win at Johnstown in the league’s only wild card game.
They only picked up steam from there, winning convincingly in their next three do-or-die situations. They beat Wheeling 4-0 in Game 5 of the Northern Division semifinals. They’ve outscored the Everblades 10-1 this week after losing the first two games.
It all makes Reading 4-for-4 in elimination games.
Center Graig Mischler, the hottest Royal with seven points in the last two games, credits chemistry as the reason Reading has responded with its best performances when the ante is upped.
“I think the fact that we can all rely on each other, and we all are good friends, that helps,” he said. “We know that we’re not ready to leave yet. I think that’s really what we draw upon.”
Royals coach Derek Clancey likes his team’s mental toughness and experience.
“Character,” he said. “I mean, we’ve had adversity all year with call-ups, trying to get in the playoffs. We’ve said that over and over.
“I just think the character in the room settles everything down. We don’t panic in there. It’s like another day at the office. That’s how we treat it.”
Royals broadcaster John Curtis, who has called every game and logged each mile with the players, has noted throughout the postseason that this team is a pack of cool cats, unruffled by any deficit, be it in a game or series.
“Everyone’s pretty emotional about it right now,” Medak said of their playoff fortitude. “But obviously at the same time we want to stay on an even keel. You know, we haven’t accomplished anything yet in our minds.
“I think that’s the big thing with this team. We’ve had some success, but we’re not where we want to be yet. We’re not satisfied.”