The Maine Mariners and Reading Royals met last year in the ECHL North Division semifinals, with Reading winning the series in six games. The teams begin another best-of-seven playoff series Friday night in Pennsylvania. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The memories of watching the Reading Royals celebrate their series victory and skate off into the next round of the Kelly Cup playoffs haven’t left the Maine Mariners.

One year later, it’s playoff time again. It’s Reading up first again. And for the Mariners, it’s a chance for a little payback, after losing to the Royals in six games in 2022.

“There’s definitely a revenge factor,” said Mariners Coach Terrence Wallin. “You always hold something in your heart for the team that finishes your season. You always remember those moments.”

After the most successful regular season in their five-year ECHL history, the Mariners (42-27-2-1) begin their Kelly Cup pursuit this weekend in the best-of-seven North Division semifinals.

Games 1 and 2 will be in Reading, Pennsylvania, on Friday and Saturday, and Games 3 and 4 will be at Portland’s Cross Insurance Arena on Monday and Tuesday. If necessary, Game 5 would be in Portland on Wednesday, followed by Games 6 and 7 in Reading next Saturday and Sunday. All games are scheduled for 7 p.m.

Reading (41-25-5-1) secured home-ice advantage by finishing one point ahead of Maine in the standings. The Royals won four of six games against the Mainers during the regular season.


Maine clinched a playoff berth on April 2 with six games remaining on the schedule. With the arrival of the playoffs, Wallin said the intensity has started ramping back up.

“After we clinched, there was kind of a settling down feeling, taking the foot off the gas just the slightest bit,” he said. “It felt like (Tuesday) was really the start of the switch flipping back into intensity mode. Our practice was sharp, it was fast. Just good vibes in the room, and I think everybody knows that now there’s a little bit more on the line.”

The opponent adds to that intensity.

“One hundred percent,” said forward Nick Master, who along with Cam Askew led the team with three goals in the Reading series last year. “What happened last year, it hurt a little bit and it definitely resonates a little this year. It’s fun that we get to have that first shot at them.”

Maine has played Reading 18 times since the start of last season, going 7-10-1-0. Even with all of those matchups, there will be a new element when the teams meet in Game 1.

“We haven’t seen them since January,” Wallin said. “We’re kind of playing a separate team, it feels like, almost. And we’re a different team than we were in January.”


Eight players on the Reading playoff roster, including goalies Pat Nagle and Matt Vernon, weren’t with the team for the last matchup with Maine. Max Newton and Charlie Gerard, seventh and eighth in the ECHL with 34 and 33 goals, respectively, have been with the team much of the year, however, as has Jacob Gaucher, who scored four goals against the Mariners in last year’s playoff series.

The Mariners know what to expect.

“We have a pretty good feel for what they’re all about,” said forward Mitch Fossier, a former University of Maine player whose 57 points are second on the Mariners to Tim Doherty’s 73. “They’re very well-rounded offensively. … They have a handful of guys that are really crafty with the puck, and their transition game is good. If we’re not taking care of the puck, they can do a good job of coming down (and scoring).”

Likewise there are no mysteries for Reading, which will face a Mariners team that recently got Mathew Santos back from the American Hockey League and Pat Shea back from injury. Shea led the Mariners with 25 goals, including seven against the Royals.

“I think the start is always the biggest thing against Maine,” said Reading Coach James Henry. “If you let them kind of get ahead, they’re a smart team that can prevent chances against. How we prepare to start each game is going to be crucial, not allowing them to generate offense.”

Good starts will be a key for the Mariners. Maine lost the first two games in Reading last year, and despite winning the next two in Portland, couldn’t gain a series lead.


“We have a specific saying in our locker room, throughout the playoffs, it’ll kind of be our motto to have good starts,” Wallin said. “That’s our big thing. … You want to go down there and split or do better, and then come home with a chance to win the series with those three games, which we like. We like having the heart of the series at home.”

The Mariners will be a more experienced team this time around.

“Having double-digit guys back that were a part of that last year and are now a part of it again this year means a lot,” Wallin said. “I think last year, we had three or four guys who had playoff experience, and this year we have 15 or 16.”

Master said that experience makes a difference.

“Last year, you got those jitters, and those early ‘I don’t want to mess up’ kind of tendencies,” he said. “You have that sense of calmness (now). … I think it’s more excitement rather than nervousness.”

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