Sour Loss, Sweet Homecoming for Reading’s Cruthers

It’s hard for a losing team to find a lot of positives in a game that ended 7-2, but the one pro on a long list of cons was the return of the Reading Royals’ former captain and all-time leading scorer Ryan Cruthers. Donning purple and white for the second time this season and the first time at home since 2012, Cruthers and his teammates fell to the Fort Wayne Komets on Saturday night.

“It’s always hard when you’re down three-nothing early,” Captain Yannick Tifu lamented about the first period. “There’s no excuse. There’s no reason we should have been down three-nothing.”

The Royals left the ice at first intermission out-scored 0-3 and out-shot 4-14. And while the second period saw an uptick in pace against Fort Wayne, this momentum did not follow Reading into the third. After the Komets’ fifth goal lit Reading’s lamp, goaltender Brandon Anderson lost his cool and engaged in the first of three brawls in the last seven minutes of the game. These fights did little to re-charge Reading’s team—the game ended Komets 7 and Reading 2.

“We’re just in a slump,” Tifu told the press after Saturday’s loss. “I told the guys we just need to turn the page and be ready to work Monday morning.”

Reading Royals Forward T.J. Syner  faces the Wheeling Nailers in late November 2013. (Annie Erling Gofus/The Hockey Writers)

The Return of a Familiar Face

“We’ve got 14 guys that initially started on our roster that are out,” Coach Larry Courville stated. Plenty of new names have been appearing on the Royals’ roster since the start of the season. In his second game with Reading, Degon dropped the gloves for his new team on Saturday, and Goalie Anderson was in the net for only the 8th time this season.

Among the new faces on the bench was a familiar one for fans at Santander Arena. Former Captain and all-time leading scorer Ryan Cruthers represented the Purple and White at home for the first time since he was traded to the Alaska Aces in March 2012 for Ethan Cox and future considerations.

“Well, you know he’s all-time leading scorer. We were forced to trade him because we weren’t great and he had some value within the league and we ended up trading him for two guys,” explained Coach Courville. “We brought him back for some short numbers… He’s got 5 points in two games. He’s gotta be pretty happy with his performance.”

Reading Royals Ryan Cruthers (Annie Erling Gofus)

Reading Royals Ryan Cruthers (Annie Erling Gofus)

Since leaving Reading, Cruthers finished the 2011-2012 season with the Aces and then moved on to the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears. Most recently, he has been the Director of Hockey at the Body Zone Sports and Wellness Complex in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania where he manages over 85 kids in the Junior Royals hockey program. After working at what Coach Courville described as “basically a desk job” for the last six months, Cruthers has made a smooth transition back onto the ice.

“It was great, there was a great response. I know a lot kids who play for me are here, family is here, so it was great to be back,” Cruthers said.

Cruthers went on to explain, “Larry called me on Friday. We had talked all summer long, we knew this was probably going to happen, but we were waiting for the right time. And then he called me on Friday, I was away coaching and I told him I’d be there on Monday.”

When asked if his spot on Reading’s roster would last, Cruthers responded, “We’re taking it a day at a time right now.”

The all-time leading scorer for the Royals registered 167 points and 192 penalty minutes in 159 regular season games over three seasons (2009-12). Prior to turning pro, Cruthers split an impressive collegiate career between West Point and Robert Morris University. Before transferring to Robert Morris University, Cruthers was named West Point’s most Outstanding Freshman in 2004 after leading the team in scoring. He was named a captain as a senior at Robert Morris, and finished the season as a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award.

The Fort Wayne Komets 7-2 win over the Reading Royals was sour for a team struggling to maintain a steady roster, but it didn’t make Ryan Cruthers’s homecoming any less sweet.

“Hockey is a fun sport,” Cruthers said with a smile. “It was an easy transition. It was like I never left, to be honest.”

Originally published at

Annie Erling Gofus also writes for Olympus Athletics. Follow Annie on Twitter (@AnnieErGo) or email her at

High Heels on Ice: The Tale of a Female Hockey Writer

If this was Cosmo or Glamour, I’d start my profile of Erica Koup by describing what she wore to our interview. I’d write about her glamorous retro-style sunglasses and how effortlessly beautiful her long, curled locks were. I’d gush about how sweet and down-to-earth she was as we chatted candidly over salads at a Hummelstown gastropub. And, of course, I’d really focus on the salads, because what woman isn’t just wild about salads?

But this isn’t Cosmo. In fact, this might be the exact opposite of trashy websites that cover celebrity break-ups and bikini bod diet tips. This is a hockey blog, and Erica Koup is its stylishly sweet and whip-smart writer.

On any given weekend night in Hershey, Pennsylvania, you can spot a lone woman in the Bears’ pressbox. Where the NHL scouts end and the bloggers begin sits the founder and author of The Amateur Fan—a blog that focuses on some of Pennsylvania’s finest professional hockey teams. Eyes intently on the ice, scribbling notes and taking breaks only to inform the scout to her left exactly what’s wrong with the Philadelphia Flyers this season, anyone would be shocked to learn this isn’t Erica’s day job.

“I wanted to run for office and be a politician,” the former political science student admits. “I learned about hockey from my full-time job. I worked Hershey Bears games (as a college recruiter). The first game I went to I was like, I can’t believe you’re making me go to this… I had no idea what was going on.”

What began as an annoying job assignment morphed into The Amateur Fan, where Erica has been posting game analysis and opinions for over nine months now. And while falling in love with hockey was easy, finding her place in hockey media wasn’t as simple. As a hockey rookie and a female sports writer, it can be a struggle to gain credibility.

“I think you have to have a lot of guts (to break into the hockey writing field). You need to put yourself out there. And It’s so hard to. Especially as a female,” Erica said. “Because the guys are always thinking they know more than us, because why not? It must come with their genetics that they know more about hockey than females.”

Unfortunately, Erica’s struggle for respect isn’t unique.

Just 50 miles from Hershey, PA is Santander Arena, home to the ECHL’s Reading Royals. Among the standard male media members is Candice Monhollan who is entering her third season covering Royals hockey for various news outlets. With a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, Candice is a professional sports writer who still faces dubious stares.

“It’s a constant battle being a woman in this field. Just when you think you’ve proved yourself, someone else comes out of the woodwork to attack your credibility,” Candice admitted. “The downside, to be honest, is being a female in such a male-dominated career. In certain leagues, I can’t go into the locker room and even some places (have) to change protocol because I’m around and that shouldn’t be the case.”

Any hockey player will tell you that thick skin is vital in succeeding in this sport. Sometimes you need to let a clean hit roll off your shoulders while on the ice, you need to keep your head up and focus on the game. This is advice a female hockey writer can also learn from.

“The first few times (I published an article), I asked my buddy, can you read this and make sure it makes sense,” Erica recalled. “I’m just nervous to put it out there and be judged by people who maybe know a little more about hockey than me.”

“No one’s ever said you don’t understand hockey, just the English language,” Erica laughed. After posting an article on Reddit, “someone said I used the word ironic wrong.” Thick skin is useful when dealing with critics, but love of the game is far more effective.

To be honest, I invited Erica Koup to lunch in the hopes of delving deep into the painful struggles of a female hockey writer. Instead, I discovered over the course of our three-hour-long meal that Erica has happily embraced the challenges of being a woman in this field, and her hockey obsession may have something to do with it.

“I don’t know anyone else who sparks up a conversation about hockey at the eye doctors,” Erica said with a smile.

Up to three times a week, Erica settles into her assigned seat in the Hershey Bears’ pressbox and takes in her surroundings—the Giant Center’s lively crowd, the banter of fellow writers and the swish of skates on ice. When I asked what her favorite part of the job is, Erica simply replied, “I really like watching the games.” Love of hockey makes sitting in cold arenas for hours so easy, and it makes a career in the sport so desirable.

“I really want to work in the front office somewhere. Maybe community relations for a hockey team,” Erica explained. “If I can still write, I would love to continue writing. I sort of fell into writing. I never saw myself in the media or press category.”

Despite facing occasional negativity, Candice also finds that the pros out-weigh the cons as a female sports writer. “I love being able to get paid to watch sports. It’s one of those jobs where you wake up in the morning and don’t regret having to go to work. I love having the ability to travel and meet so many people and I enjoy above all else getting to write and share with others the unique story of an athlete.”

With The Amateur Fan’s first birthday just around the corner, Erica has plans for her second year of hockey writing—expansion, promotion and maybe a trip up North to hockey’s motherland…?

“Yea, I really do think that Canadians are perfect. I love it,” Erica joked as she described a recent trip to Toronto. “I thought I was going to cross the border and it was going to be like Celine Dion and hockey players everywhere.”

Erica Koup: Fashionista, hockey writer, Canada’s number one. Obviously.

Erica Koup and Annie Erling Gofus in the Reading Royals' press room. (Annie Erling Gofus)

Erica Koup and Annie Erling Gofus in the Reading Royals’ press room. (Annie Erling Gofus)

Five Girlie Questions for a Girl About Hockey:

1. Do you love or hate hockey players’ mustaches during the month of Movember?
“I love them. I admire them from the pressbox. I really want to know who has the best mustache on the Bears team. Jeff Taffe can’t grow hair on his head, but he’s pretty solid in the mustache category. I like the handlebars, I think it’s a flashback to the 70s.

2. What’s your favorite hockey jersey?
“I really like the Reading Royals’ jerseys. I like purple and the lion with the crown. The throwback jersey the Hershey Bears wore—that was a really cool jersey. And I like the Avs’ jersey, I think they have nice colors.”

3. Who is your hockey player crush?
“The reason I became a Flyers fan was not because I knew anything about the Flyers, but because of Zac Rinaldo. Gabriel Landeskog comes in a close second.”

4. Would you rather your boyfriend have Brent Burns no-teeth smile or Steve Downie’s scary red post-Washington Capitals line brawl eyeball?
“Steve Downie. I didn’t see the red eyeball, but I’ve seen the developing black eye. It’s tough.”

5. What are your secrets to staying warm and looking cute at hockey games?
“Pants, nice sweater and heels. I stay pretty warm, but throughout the game it always gets colder.”

6. Puck Bunnies, thoughts?
“I don’t think I’ve run into any puck bunnies. It has to be real, because I hear it’s real, but I don’t have any thoughts on that… If you look cute going to the game, does that qualify you as a puck bunny?”

Annie Erling Gofus also writes for Olympus Athletics. Follow Annie on Twitter (@AnnieErGo) or email her at

Originally published at

T.J. Syner Returns to the Reading Royals for

Although separated by only 50 miles, the journey from Hershey to Reading can seem long for an ECHL player eying an AHL roster spot. Movement between the Washington Capitals, the Hershey Bears and the Reading Royals has been free-flowing early this season, with players like Dmitry Orlov being recalled to the NHL, and others being re-assigned to the ECHL.

“(The Club) is pulling guys in, we’re pulling guys out, we’re calling guys up now, we’re trying to send messages to guys, we’re benching guys, you’ve got to push buttons,” Coach Mike Haviland said after a November loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Forward T.J. Syner returned to the Reading Royals in time to face the Wheeling Nailers. (Annie Erling Gofus/The Hockey Writers)

Last Minute Re-Assignment an Opportunity to Stand Out

Early on November 2nd, The Bears announced they had recalled T.J. Syner from the Reading Royals, and the forward made his 2013-2014 Hershey debut that same night. Syner joined Hershey late in the 2011-2012 season after playing four years at the University of Massachusetts where he was a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award. Although Hershey lost to the Baby Penguins 4-2, Syner was among the players to make a positive impression on Coach Haviland during the November 2nd game:

“We need speed. He’s been playing outstanding on all the reports we got… I thought he played great tonight. We need more speed in the lineup, we need to get up and get after teams, and I think speed kills. And certainly he and Walker were our best two guys up front tonight. They got up and got after it.”

T.J. Syner Playing for the Hershey Bears in early November 2013. (Annie Erling Gofus/The Hockey Writers)

“I need to wait for an opportunity to present itself, and I need to be ready when it does.”

After two Bears games and recording five penalty minutes, Syner returned to Hershey’s ECHL affiliate, the Reading Royals, in time to help his flu-ravaged team to victory against the Wheeling Nailers on November 20th. With six or seven players out sick that night, Reading struggled to match Wheeling’s intense physical game.

“They work really hard, they finish every check,” Syner commented on the Nailers. “It’s hockey—you’ve gotta be able to take a hit. They’re good at that, getting under your skin.”

Reading Royals' Mike Banwell faces off with Wheeling Nailers' Paul Cianfrini. (Annie Erling Gofus/The Hockey Writers)

“I didn’t think the first half of the game we were very good,” Royals Coach Larry Courville recalled. “ I didn’t feel we played with enough passion, energy, heart—all the things you need to be successful. And then halfway through the game, I think we got our legs.”

After a scoreless overtime, the Reading Royals out-scored the Wheeling Nailers in a shootout, bringing the team’s record against the Nailers to 4-0-0-0.

With a win on his first night back in Reading, Syner reflected on his time in Hershey and what the rest of the season may hold:

“(My time with the Hershey Bears) was a good experience,” Syner said. “It’s better to be playing down here than to be sitting in the stands up there. I’ve just got to wait for my opportunity again. The season is long… I need to wait for an opportunity to present itself, and I need to be ready when it does.”

Originally published at

Annie Erling Gofus also writes for Olympus Athletics. Follow Annie on Twitter (@AnnieErGo) or email her at