Archive for April, 2010

We’ve been operating off the grid over here at CycWords but with the Kelly Cup Playoffs well underway, We figured it was long overdue for us to weigh in.

The 1st round match-up between the Cyclones and the South Carolina Stingrays had all the makings of an instant classic. The story lines were numerous, the headliner, of course, being the previous playoff history between the 2 Teams. When all was said and done the series met every expectation, going 5 games, with 3 games, including the 5th and decisive game, going to overtime. Sure, it was a bit stressful but once it was over; as a fan of the game…wow, what a series.

– With Robert Mayer still on duty in Hamilton, the Cyclones were forced to ride Jeremy Smith. He didn’t disappoint, eventually out dueling ECHL Goaltender of the Year Todd Ford. Jeremy had a solid regular season showing his potential and why he was a 2nd round draft pick, but if someone would have told me that he was going to play to that potential in his first professional playoff series, I’m not sure I would have believed them but I’m glad that’s how it’s working out.

– A quick note on Todd Ford. He’s a solid net minder for sure, but how the heck does he win the ECHL Goaltender of the Year award over Idaho’s Richard Bachman? Bachman played more games, had a better gaa and sv%, and posted 3 more shutout performances  than Ford. Who votes on these things?

– The FNG’s continue to impress. Ortiz has wheels and a serious cannon of a shot. Heidinger has proven to be a heady player regularly being in the right place at the right time. While the two, have been in and out of the line up, they have proven to be capable additions.

***

If the 1st round match up with the Stingrays had me worried, it’s safe to say the 2nd round series against Charlotte had me mortified. The Checkers possessed speed and skill on par with South Carolina but had the one thing that the Cyclones have struggled with all season; size. While this is one of the largest Cyclones teams in the Chuck Weber era and they look very similar to Charlotte on paper, Charlotte’s game was simply bigger and more physical. If there were any areas in which the Cyclones topped the Checkers it was goaltending and, as the series went on, coaching.

As far as the goaltending went, the Cyclones were still riding the back of Jeremy Smith while the Checkers went with Ryan Munce. Smith, who was a big question mark as a rookie going into the playoffs for the first time as a pro, continued to be the story and would ultimately be considered the MVP of the series. Munce, on the other hand, was Ryan Munce. I remember Munce vaguely from his time with Reading and Johnstown in 06-07 and Mississippi in 07-08, 08-09. My impressions haven’t really changed. He’s a solid net minder overall and can be great when he puts his mind to it, but has a tendency to be lethargic, relying on his defense almost too much on the weak side of the play. Not to mention he has a dismal record against the Cyclones (3-6, with one “no decision” as he was pulled after giving up 2 goals on 3 shots in just 2:51).

As the series wore on, it was clear that the Cyclones had an advantage behind the bench. Charlotte’s game plan never really changed; score in transition, forecheck hard and most importantly, be physical. It worked for them all season why change now right? It didn’t look like the Boys were going to be able to skate with the Checkers for 60 minutes each night, especially of the series went deep so it appeared early on that the game plan was to play defensively and capitalize on opportunities to keep the game close for the 1st 30 to 40 minutes then turn up the pressure late. It worked in game 1 and 3 but after having the Checkers squarely in their sights in game 4, only to have it get away from them before they knew it, it seemed like Chuck mixed it up a bit for the rest of the series. For games 5-7, the boys came out flying early on and it seemed to catch Charlotte off guard. Whether the Charlotte coach was unwilling or unable to change his strategy (the Checkers did score 1st in every game but game 7) it was clear that the slight tweak in strategy by the Cyclones changed the entire feel of the series.

– The officiating came under fire more than ever in this series. I’m not going to claim that there is any type of conspiracy because the boys certainly aren’t saints but there is one thing I want to touch on. The ECHL is officiated by one referee, so there are going to be legitimate penalties missed, but the referee should never miss a call when the infraction happens within a 20ft radius of the puck and the referee should always have the corner of his eye on the bench area during changes and after goals. Also, the whole notion of “it’s the playoffs so we’re going to let them play” is BS. When the NHL came back after the lockout with a new set of rules to limit interference to speed the game up, it was adopted by the minor leagues including the ECHL. More and more, I’m noticing that during the playoffs referees are letting things go that would have been a penalty during the regular season. If the rule book states that it’s a penalty, call it, if not it defeats the purpose of the rule changes. For example, during the regular season, if a player finished a check with his hands high in the other players face it was called roughing. During this series, most Charlotte checks involved finishing high and it wasn’t called. Adding fuel to the fire is this little nugget; during the regular season the Cyclones were the 3rd least penalized team (1138pims), Charlotte was the 3rd most penalized team (1554pims). Now suddenly the Cyclones (202pims) are the 2nd most penalized team in the League, trailing only Utah (272pims). Charlotte is 3rd with 192pims. Perhaps the outcome of the series had something to do with karma…..

– Welcome back Mark Van Guilder! On Monday night he was playing a Game 7 for the Milwaukee Admirals in Chicago, 24 hours later he was in Charlotte, North Carolina playing in a game 6. That Game didn’t go so well, but Wednesday night’s Game 7 saw MVG net both Cyclone goals for the victory. Good Form!

***

The Cyclones will now face the Reading Royals. The two Teams only played 3 times this season with the Cyclones taking the regular season series 2-1. During the regular season the Royals played a very skilled game, but got most, if not all of their scoring from their top line. In playoffs, they appear to be a little deeper with 6 players averaging 1 point per game or more. After their top 6 it drops off quite a bit. The Cyclones on the other hand look like they have for most of the regular season, with everyone contributing, but no one running away as the hands on stat leader.

– Special teams could decide this series. The Royals power play is firing at 21.4% and if the Cyclones continue to skate short handed, the series could be over before we know it. On the flip side, Reading is the least penalized team left in the playoffs so it’s imperative the Cyclones get their power play to convert when they get the opportunity.

– Reading’s goalie Matt Dalton has played well posting a 2.88gaa and a .922sv% but I give the edge to Jeremy Smith who is a few points lower on the sv% at .918 but has the better gaa at 2.45.

– I only saw the Royals play twice this season and they reminded me of the 08-09 Wheeling Nailer. They have good speed, a lot of skill and like the transition game. Chuck had a great game plan to stifle Wheeling last season, so I’m guessing he’ll have something up his sleeve to slow down the Royals.

– The schedule for the Conference finals leaves a bit to be desired. After back to back games this Friday and Saturday, the Teams will travel to Reading for game 3 on Tuesday (5/4). The Teams won’t play again until Saturday (5/8). If needed Game 5 will be Sunday (5/9) in Reading with games 6 and 7 in Cincinnati on Tuesday (5/11) and Wednesday (5/12). The layoff between games 3 and 4 is a rough one for the boys, it’s not quite long enough to head home but a little too long to be away from home.

***

A few other playoffs notes:

– Curtis Sanford was dressed and backing up Cederick Desjardins tonight (4/29). My guess is Robert Mayer could be returned soon. The net is Jeremy’s to lose, but it will be nice to have a capable goalie ready in the wings for a change.

– As I’m sure most are aware of this by now but the the Cyclones have won every odd numbered game played and lost every even numbered game. If you’re going to have a pattern that’s t the one you want.

– Hammer dropped this little nugget the other night during the broadcast; the Checkers are the 3rd team the Cyclones have knocked out of the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the final time…ever. In 07, the Cyclones swept the Toledo Storm into hiatus. In 2008, it was the Johnstown Chiefs (although we didn’t know it would be the Chiefs last playoff game at the time). Charlotte will be leaving the ECHL for the AHL ranks next season on a sour note, losing their last Kelly Cup playoff series.

– Over in the National Conference, the Brabham Cup winning Idaho Steelheads are taking on the Stockton Thunder. I’ll be doing a bit of research as the series progress to get a handle on those potential match ups. Should the Cyclones get passed Reading, wouldn’t a match up against Stockton make for an interesting story line (the Cyclones franchise that first took the ice back in 1990 is now the Stockton Thunder)

-Mike-

While undoubtedly missing from this spot is a recap of the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs (suck on that, SC), I’m taking a quick time-out from the playoff season to bring you an update about some alumni making splashes elsewhere.

If you’ll scoot on over to EP’s wonderful rundown of this year’s Hamilton Bulldogs broken/tied records, you’ll notice a few familiar names to have broken franchise records for Guy Boucher’s resilient crew, including:

– David Desharnais, single-season points: 78 (prior – J. Chimera, 77)
– Ryan Russell, all-time shorthanded goals: 7 (prior – several, 6)
– Cedrick Desjardins, most wins in a season: 29 (prior – Danis, 28)
– Cedrick Desjardins, shutout streak: 212:37 (prior – Michaud, 158:09
– Cedrick Desjardins, single season shutouts: 6 (tied)

Not to be forgotten: Cedrick Desjardins & Curtis Sanford will share the Harry “Hap” Holmes award for the lowest GAA.

All 3 were major players in the 2008 Kelly Cup Run. Undoubtedly Boucher is counting on all 3, as well as a whole host of other talent (and former ‘Clones Frederic St. Denis and JT Wyman) to step up and lead his regular-season Western Conference champs onward into their hunt for the Calder Cup.

-Dannielle

They Kelly Cup Playoffs are in full swing and we, here at CycWords, have been nowhere to be found. Sorry about that. To make up for it, here are some random notes and grumblings from the past few days.

The playoff rosters were released Tuesday afternoon. The only real surprise to me was including both of the new guys over Chris Morehouse which could indicate that Chris is not 100%. If I hear anything more, I’ll let you know. Scott Reynolds, Dwayne Zinger and Jamie Coghlan are all injured. Cycwords wishes you all speedy recoveries.

– While he may not be on the Playoff Roster, Chris Morehouse is still making his presence felt with the Squad from behind the bench. Chris is a vocal player and according to Weber’s pregame interview from a few games back, he’s a good motivator for the Boys. Going a step further, he not only keeps the ‘Clones fired up, but he can also be seen running his mouth at the opposition and that should make things interesting should the Guys run into Elmira in the Conference Finals.

– FNG Will Ortiz has impressed me so far. He’s got good wheels and seems to have a solid hockey mind about him. Regardless of how this season ends, I hope he manages at least a try out for next years Squad.

-Games 1 and 2 are in the books with Series knotted at 1 a piece. Game 1 was a tight checking affair until the Cyclones offense exploded in the 2nd, ultimately resulting in a 6-1 victory. Game 2 was a different story. With the series being a condensed best of 5 the Stingrays couldn’t afford to go down 2 games to none and they came out of the gate flying. The Cyclones, on the other hand, looked sluggish and a bit befuddled by the jump in the South Carolina game. Jeremy Smith gave up 2 quick goals in the 1st, but hung in, surrendering only one more goal the rest of the way to give the Boys a chance. In the end the Stingrays took the victory to even the series. If any positive can be taken from the game 2 performance, I would say that the Cyclones looked much worse in a 3-1 defeat than the Stingrays did in game 1 when they played a decent game but gave up 6 goals.

– If Jean Hebert never officiates another Cyclones game again it will be too soon. The Cyclones had the edge in Power Play opportunities at 7 to 4 but the level of inconsistency in the game Hebert called was astounding. It’s not uncommon for referees to “let teams play” in the playoffs but at least be consistent; if it’s a slash for one team it should be for the other as well. Also, is it too much to ask for the referee to occassionally glance behind himself or away from the puck? I think that if the game had occured during the regular season the Power Play chances would have been closer to 12 to 6 in favor of the Cyclones.

There was a good article on NHL.com about Jeremy Smith. Check it out if you haven’t already.

-Mike-

The ECHL finally released the press release regarding the Kelly Cup Playoff Roster regulations. As expected there aren’t any notable changes to the regulations.

The Playoff rosters are due in to the league offices today at 3pm.

The weekend didn’t workout quite the way we were hoping but we’re in the playoffs and that’s what matters. Before I look ahead to playoff rosters and the 1st round match up with South Carolina, I want to mention Johnstown again. Mike Mastovich, who has been covering sports for the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, the Chiefs in particular, penned two more articles which I feel are a must read. The Chiefs history in the ECHL goes back to it’s inception and includes some “Slapshotesque” moments, as well as moments marking Johnstown’s longevity in the league. I was glad to read that Johnstown packed the War Memorial on Saturday night. There are a lot of memories in that old building and as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m glad I got to take in a game there. I’ll never forget seeing the Hanson brothers line up against our boys and the look on Cedrick’s face after being “taken out.” It was all a show and Ceddy played his roll perfectly and was grinning ear to ear. Nor will forget seeing David Desharnais negotiate the “step” the players had to manage to get to and from the ice each period (let me just say that it looked to be about half his height.) It’s not unusual for the back up goalie to sit somewhere besides the bench in the game of hockey but Johnstown took it to a whole new level putting the back-ups on a folding chair amongst the crowd. I can still picture Dov Grumet-Morris sitting in the crowd entertaining the youth of Johnstown while the Cylones won yet another game, I could go on and on and I only went to 2 games there. There is talk of Wheeling playing a handful of games in Johnstown next season. If you’re a fan of minor league hockey and you’ve never been, you should try to make it if the Wheeling deal goes through.

OK, now onto to what you’ve really surfed over to read about, THE PLAYOFFS!

The Cyclones ended the Season 44-25-1-2 for 91 points which was 3 points short of winning another North Division Banner. That honour will go to Kalamazoo this Season. I still think the inability to get the close games to OT really hurt the squad in the standings this season. Adding fuel to my argument is this little nugget; the only team with more wins than the Cyclones was Idaho, who won 48 and the Cyclones mere 3 points from OT rank dead last in the League. If there is a positive to take from this it’s that the Cyclones are great at winning games that go to extra time and in the playoffs where only the win matters.

The Boys 91 points earned them the 5th seed in the playoffs and a date with the South Carolina in the 1st round. Odds are the Cyclones will not have a home ice advantage for any round of the playoffs (I can not find information on how home ice will be determined for the Finals, whether it will be according to Conference seeding or more fairly based on point totals.) but for the 1st round best of 5 series I would rather not have home ice but get to open at home. It actually gives our Boys a bit of an advantage from a travel perspective as both teams will have to make the trip to South Carolina on Thursday but the Stingrays will have to make the trip north to start the series. In a condensed 5 game series that will see the teams potentially play 5 games in just 6 days the extra day of travel could be an issue.

As far as the match up goes, many were worried about a match up with Toledo, but I was concerned with South Carolina, despite the head to head records. It’s true the Cyclones went 3-1 against the Stingrays this season but we never really faced them with the full line up and goalkeeping that put them on top of the South Division early on. The Playoff rosters are due in Monday afternoon but they probably won’t be announced to the public until just before game time Tuesday. I’m not sure how many call-ups and injuries the Stingrays are dealing with right now, but if they are healthy and have players back from recall they will be a different team than the Boys have faced previously.

The Cyclones will have some decisions to make as far as Their roster goes. Chuck added two more college kids, Josh Heidinger and Will Ortiz,  for Saturdays game at Wheeling which I think raises some questions about the health of a few players. Since we are rolling into the Playoffs I’m not going to name any names other than the players who I know to be out of the playoff picture as far as potential injuries go. The Cyclones roster currently has 23 names on it and Chuck gets to select 23 players (20 active, 3 inactive) to the playoff roster. I think it’s pretty safe to say that Dwayne Zinger will not be healthy enough to make the cut and Jamie Coghlan is a long shot. That opens up 2 spots in the line up. The Cyclones have 6 players on assignment in the AHL Reid Cashman, Mark Van Guilder and Chris Muller are in Milwaukee, Brett Motherwell  is in Bridgeport while Maxime Lacroix and Robert Mayer are in Hamilton.

Chuck only has 6 healthy defensemen on the roster right now so logic would indicate that at least Brett Motherwell or Reid Cashman will be on the roster, if not both. Adding them both would give Chuck 8 D-men to work with assuming both make it back.

I think the biggest questions are up front, eight D-men leaves room for 13 forwards. My guess is one of the new guys makes it, but not both. There could be some questions regarding health of a few guys and the status of both Lacroix’s and Van Guilders assignments in the AHL. Montreal and Hamilton have had another bout of injuries so Lacroix’s return could be questionable. Van Guiler will most likely be back but, again, it’s a question of when. The only name on the list that is probably out of the picture is Mueller. I’m sure Chuck is in close communication with both Hamilton and Milwaukee in regards to when we might see the players in question.

With the exception of the new guys I think everyone on the current roster should make the playoff roster unless injured. Unfortunately, I think the addition of 2 new players at this point indicates that there is an injury that will keep someone off the playoff roster, and/or either Van Guilder or Lacroix are not expected back.

-Mike-