Oct. 16—The Reading Royals have not played a game at Santander Arena in nearly 600 days.
That streak will end Saturday night at 7 p.m., as Reading welcomes Adirondack for a preseason matchup, the second leg of a home-and-home exhibition series that began Friday. Not only will the two teams take the ice, but fans will be back in the stands, as well.
Reading's last home game of any kind took place on March 8, 2020 — a 3-1 loss to Brampton. Berks County has been without professional hockey since. After the 2019-20 season was cut short, the Royals did not participate in the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The fans in Reading, they bring a lot of that energy to the team," Royals defenseman David Drake said. "So I'm sure everyone is pretty excited to go."
Drake is one of eight returning players from the 2019-20 squad that had their season abruptly ended. While some players went elsewhere last season, Drake did not play at all, opting to workout on his own.
"It feels great to be back on the ice," he said. "We have a good amount of returners, so honestly, [it] feels like [we] didn't even miss a year at all."
Forward Frank DiChiara also is eager to play in front of the Royals' faithful again. DiChiara played in Reading from 2018-20 and led the team in points in 2019-20, before splitting time between the ECHL's Allen Americans and Greenville Swamp Rabbits last season.
"It will be great to have a full arena," DiChiara said. "It kind of gives you a little extra fire. You enjoy the game more, the crowd gets you into it."
Aside from the fans, the exhibition games will give Royals coach Kirk MacDonald a chance to evaluate his team. Reading has 24 players on its preseason roster, but that number will have to be trimmed to 22 by Oct. 22 for the Royals' opener at Norfolk.
"The competition has been high," MacDonald said. "The young guys are going to have an opportunity to show who deserves to stay."