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New Year with New Hopes

New Year with New Hopes

Last week (Aug. 2) the Reading Royals introduced the city to its new management team, from the front office to the people behind the bench.

Last season ended with lots of turmoil on that front, and many Royals fans were puzzled and concerned about what is going on here.

It wasn’t any help in soothing frayed nerves to find out that the Flyers had purchased the old ECHL Alaska Aces franchise and moved it to Portland Maine, starting in 2018. This club will be managed by none other than Danny Briere, a Flyer favorite and Stalwart for the past decade. Also entering our collective psyches was the purchase of the Allen Americans by Royals owner Jack Gulati. I got a chance to ask “Are You Happy” Jack about these two question marks at the press conference.

In a nutshell, fans, stay happy about these two areas. The Flyers have given assurances that they are committed to Reading as their ECHL associate. The proximity to both Allentown and Philadelphia is just too attractive. Reading is an hour away from both, not the day away that Maine is.

Additionally, Reading indeed survives on the players they develop, not on any franchise loyalty, and things will work out on this score. As far as the Allen team ownership goes, there appears to be little conflict. Jack Gulati is a business man and sees Allen as an opportunity to develop a team to be a better profit center.

Key to that business side of both Allen and Reading is the management team that has been assembled. Ray Melcher goes from interim GM to Chief Operating Officer of both teams and full time GM of Reading. Ray is a business man, not a hockey lifer. He has business acumen especially about evaluation of a business’s financial strengths and weaknesses. What he lacks is the hockey knowledge to be comfortable in that part of the role.

The perfect man to fill that need has been identified. Doug Yingst has been the head of the Hershey Bears for many years. Health and other concerns have caused him to step aside from the wilting grind of being a full time GM and President. But the hockey knowledge is still there. Doug has agreed to be involved as an adviser in all matters related to hockey operations including player personnel decisions, league relations and interactions with the team’s NHL and AHL affiliates, the Flyers and Lehigh Valley Phantoms. His title was given as Special Advisor for Hockey Operations on the press release. He quipped during the rollout that he should be Senior Adviser.

It doesn’t matter what he is called. This is a near perfect fit of the Royals needs and Doug’s abilities as well as his constraints. His insights into the front office, ticket sales, player issues, the finances, even immigration will fill holes left by last season’s staff departures.

Greg Lewis will be stretched between Reading and Allen, bringing to bear his ability to move hockey merchandise in both markets. As these two teams would seldom meet, except in the Kelly Cup Finals, there really isn’t much concern about having the same owner for both organizations.

It will be interesting to see what this team can do to improve ticket sales and arena experience. They certainly have all the pieces to make big things happen.

Then we get to the on ice future of the Royals. I am excited to see what Kirk MacDonald can do on his own. There is no doubt he learned a lot from Larry Courville, but he will have his own system and his own players this year. By the way, Kirk was unable to attend the presser, as he was honeymooning in Nova Scotia with his new bride. Heartiest congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. MacDonald as they embark on this new leg of life’s journey.

Kirk has been an asset to the Royals, stepping in to fill the Assistant Coach shoes after the departure of Tim Branham to be head coach of the Utah Grizzlies. For a front line guy, he didn’t do a bad job of putting together a disciplined, committed defense. And when given the opportunity last year, he proved more than adequate to instill his own “whatever it takes” attitude on the whole team. If he can get the team to buy in on that concept, I can’t wait to see the results.

I have saved my personal best part of last Wednesday’s staff introduction for last. It is one thing to be intellectually impressed by the moves the team made this off season. As a fan, I can appreciate and be optimistic about the future of hockey in Reading. But the effect on me of these moves pale in comparison to the emotional rush of finding out Pat Wellar is back in this organization. Having Pat behind the bench will be great for our team.

Doug Yingst seemed to agree when he described Wellar as someone he would want to play for, a person who is a leader, who always did whatever it took to succeed. Doug signed him several times as a player, including the year when he was such an instrumental part of Reading’s Kelly Cup Championship.

I am privileged to give my two cents to fans. I, like many of you, am a season ticket holder, and I live and die with every victory and each defeat. I am enthusiastic about the team’s future. All in all, this looks like it has the makings of a great year.

In the word’s so often cried out by the Reading Royal faithful, “Drop the Puck!”