http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=355669


By Jason Guarente




Shortly after it was announced that Ray Macias had signed with the Reading Royals, many who follow the team closely shared the same thought.

He won't be here long.

The 6-1, 200-pound defenseman had a resume that looked too impressive for the ECHL. He played eight games with the Colorado Avalanche the previous two seasons and was almost exclusively in the AHL since 2007-08.

What was Macias doing in Reading?

"It was just bad timing," the fifth-year pro said. "So many teams signed players and overloaded players so they couldn't sign any more. Europe was an option. I weighed everything. I wanted to stay in North America."

At first it appeared everyone's expectations regarding Macias were correct.

The Long Beach, Calif. native signed a PTO with AHL Springfield after just two games with the Royals. Although he impressed the Falcons by all accounts, posting a goal and two assists, his stay only lasted three games. There was no room for a newcomer.

"I put up a good showing and I thought I was going to stick," Macias said. "But numbers pushed me back down here."

That's when Macias' brief stop turned out to be not-so-brief. He suffered shoulder and wrist injuries in November and was on injured reserve for three weeks.

It was a major setback that threatened to completely ruin his season. Teams aren't anxious to add players who seem to be an injury risk.

"It was frustrating to get done with one injury and get another one," Macias said. "It's been piling on this year. For the most part I've been frustrated, but at the same time this does happen. I've just got to keep pushing."

With the way Reading's roster has evolved, Macias may have become the Royals' most valuable player.

Reading went 0-5-2 when Macias was on IR. The stretch was part of the team's franchise-record tying nine-game winless streak that dumped them to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

In the first seven games after Macias returned, the Royals went 5-1-2.

Macias is a rugged, experienced player. He brought a much-needed toughness to Reading's defensive end and greatly helped a core that was allowing a flood of goals early.

The former NHL player was rewarded last week. He was called up to AHL Toronto minutes after making a game-saving save in what turned out to be a shootout loss against Elmira Wednesday.

"He's meant a lot to us," Reading coach Larry Courville said. "For a veteran guy, he's our leader on the back end. He plays with a presence. He's smart defensively but he also has a knack offensively. He's a guy we're going to miss."

Between the injuries and the two call-ups, Macias played 19 games for the Royals - the most he's played in one ECHL season. He had three goals, six assists and was plus-2, one of the few Reading players on the plus side of the ledger.

While some veterans mentally struggle with the idea of being in the ECHL after enjoying success at higher levels, Macias didn't fall into that trap.

The veteran didn't sulk. He played hard and played well enough to earn another look.

"You've just got to keep your goals intact," he said. "All of our objectives are to get up to the AHL. You just have to keep focused as much as you can. As long as you're playing for everybody, scouts up top are going to see that. As long as you're going hard every shift, you won't fall into bad habits."

Despite his background, Macias faces an uphill climb to stay in the AHL for this season. He's going to need to find the right situation where a team is hurting and needs him long-term.

Macias hopes to play impressively enough at the higher level that he can earn a training camp invitation next season.

If he sticks with Toronto, he'll be thrilled. If not, he'll come back to Reading and start the process all over again.

One fact is undeniable: the Royals are a better team when Macias is on their side.

Record setter

Ryan Cruthers spent most of last week etching his name into the franchise record book.

The captain became Reading's all-time points leader with an assist against Elmira Wednesday, scored his 50th goal and tied the franchise record with his 97th assist against Trenton Friday.

"I think it shows a commitment to an organization," Cruthers said. "It shows how I like playing for Reading. It's a nice accomplishment and I'm happy about it, but my goal here has always been to win a championship."

Cruthers had 51 goals and 97 assists in 136 games heading into Saturday. He has served as captain the past two seasons.

"Ryan has been a leader in our locker room," Royals coach Larry Courville said. "He has been a loyal player to our organization. It's a nice reward for him to finally be the leading scorer. It's a great accomplishment."

Penalty killers

Ryan Cruthers and Yannick Tifu teamed up on two beautiful short-handed goals against Trenton Friday, raising the Royals' season total to just five shorties.

The connection was born out of necessity more than design.

Cruthers rarely plays on the penalty kill, but Reading's roster is so depleted it has required others to be thrust into that role. Reliable PK contributors Casey Haines, John Scrymgeour, Matt Caruana and Everett Sheen are either on injured reserve or in the AHL.

Reading has still managed to rank in the middle of the pack in canceling out the man advantage.

"Other guys are forced to step up and kill," Reading coach Larry Courville said. "I think we've done a pretty decent job with all of those guys being out."

Playoffs?

Reading was 12-13-6 with 30 points heading into Saturday night. Last season's Atlantic Division champs were in ninth place in the East, two points behind South Carolina for the final playoff spot.

Despite losing back-to-back home games last week, Ryan Cruthers is standing by an earlier prediction, which came when the Royals were in a nine-game winless funk.

"Like I said before, we're going to make the playoffs," Cruthers said.