Posts Tagged ‘Matt MacDonald’

A CycWords update has been long overdue and with Cyclones hockey less then a week away from returning to US Bank Arena, what better time than now?

Behind the Bench…

First up, the big news of the summer; Skalde is out (on is own accord) and Ben Simon is in. We’re sure there were a lot of people jumping for joy at the news that Skalde had taken a position in the AHL and let’s face it there might be a little cause for it. It’s not like his record with the ‘Clones was prolific. Sure he lead the team to a 110-79-27 record in his 3 seasons behind the Cylones’ bench but those 1st two years were anything but successes. In 2010-11 he began the year with a team (most of which at least) had won a Kelly Cup the previous season, but that team was suited to play a certain style of hockey, and rather than adapting, Skalde chose to blow the thing up and by seasons end, the team looked different and still failed miserably in the 1st round of the playoffs. In his second season, the team was filled with young, skilled players that should have fit right into Skalde’s uptempo offensive game. Instead the team floundered their way through the season and missed the post season. It was 1st time since the team’s return in 2006 and just the 3rd time in Cyclones’ history the club failed to play in the post season. Skalde also didn’t make any friends in the fan base when he chose to drop 2-time Kelly Cup winning veterans Scott Reynolds and Barret Ehgoetz from the roster.

On the flip side, in his 3rd year, Skalde got it right. There was change in philosophy which saw defense emphasized, the team bought in, held each other accountable and ultimately finished the year atop the North Division. If not for the injury to Trevor Lewis and that fluke goal against Reading in the Conference Finals, we think the ‘Clones could have captured Their 3rd Kelly Cup. Last season’s success coupled with the number of returning players makes us wonder what the ‘Clones would be capable of with a little continuity behind the bench.

We’d like to wish Coach Skalde the best of luck in Norfolk. While it’s no secret we were highly critical of Skalde’s systems of play, there’s no doubt in his ability to develop a player at the individual level. We think he’ll excel as an assistant bench boss.  Best wishes Jarrod.

If Skalde had returned for the 2013-14 season we think the Cyclones would be short list of potential Kelly Cup winners, the question on our minds now is, “What now?” Honestly, we really don’t know what yo expect out of Coach Simon, who will be taking on his 1st  head coaching role. We’ve watched his press conference and PR man Nick Brinker’s interview and he says all the right things, but then again so has every head coach we’ve heard interviewed. OK, this isn’t really Coach Simon’s 1st head coaching job as he was player/coach of the Sheffield Steelers. That’s right, player/coach, can you say Reggie Dunlop? He lead that team to a Championship before retiring and joining the Rockford Ice Hogs as an assistant coach. That championship experience won’t be the only thing Simon will have going for him when the ‘Clones return to action with Matt MacDonald returning as assistant coach. The continuity of an assistant coach was something Skalde never had and we’re hoping it works in the Cyclones favor.

The Cyclones have enjoyed Their share of success since returning in 2006 and with a good portion of last season’s North Division Champion team returning (including assistant coach Matt MacDonald) there’s no reason that success can’t continue.

Here’s a side bar for you, Ben Simon is the 3rd head coach the Cyclones have had since returning in 2006. He’s also the 3rd coach to have ties to the 2000-01 Orlando Solar Bears which knocked the Cyclones out of the Turner Cup playoffs that year. Chuck Weber was Orlando’s video coach, who infamously found the chink in the Cyclones armor which ultimately lead to their defeat. Jarrod Skalde and Ben Simon were both players. Here’s the 200-01 Solar Bears’ roster in the event you’d like to start guessing who might follow up Coach Simon.

The Team…

Currently the Cyclones preseason roster looks like this(players in red are affiliated):

Forwards (15): Barry Almeida, Mathieu Aubin, Josh Birkholz, Kyle Bodie, Mike Embach, Dan Eves, Jonathan Hazen, Philippe Lefebvre, Trevor Lewis, Anthony Luciani, Wade Megan, Mike Pelech, Vinny Saponari, Matt Smyth. Paul Crowder

Defense (8): Taylor Aronson, Antoine Corbin, Drew Daniels, David MacDonald, Josh McFadden, Chris Reed, Matt Schumnig, Brett Wysopal

Goalies(2): Rob Madore, Scott Darling

That’s a total of 25 players remaining in camp. The ECHL’s roster regulations remain relatively unchanged. The ‘Clones are allowed 20 on Their active roster, 2 on reserve and unlimited on 21 day IR. The reserve spots are almost like additional roster spots as there’s no minimum time length required for a player to remain if assigned to it. The 21 day IR is a little different in that it’s less retro active than in the past. In the pat if a player was on reserve for 7 days and then moved to 21 day IR the player would credit for time served essentially backdating the assignment to 21 day IR and only requiring the to remain out of action for another 14 days. This season the the assignment can only be backdated 3 days. Essentially the Cyclones have a roster cap of 23, provided there aren’t any players that actually have long term injuries and someone is willing to start the season on 21 day IR like Mike Embach did last season. The shortened version, at least 2 of these guys are going to be looking for jobs by the weekend.

We’re proponents of hording capable defensemen, so why not keep all 8 of them. Although Aronson and McFadden are the only affiliated defensemen with the team, both Reed and MacDonald received late season AHL opportunites and as free agents, could receive a call up from any AHL team . If the Simon decides to keep 7 defensemen on the roster the ‘Clones could be just a phone call away from being short on the blue line. Both Corbin and Daniels went -3 over the 2 games in Alaska so if a defenseman is going to get get released look for it to be one of them.

Up front the Cyclones are carrying 15 forwards at the moment, 8 of which are affiliated. Florida did the ‘Clones a favor in recalling Mattias Lidstrom which opens up another free agent slot, at least in the short term. Looking at the list of unaffiliated forwards we can’t see Aubin, Pelech or Eves going anywhere. If the Simon hangs on to 8 defensemen, that leaves Embach, Birkholz, Smyth, and Bodie to fight it out for the remaining  2 roster spots (assuming Simon uses the 21 Day IR). We think Bodie and Smyth would have to be the odd men out in this scenario. If the Cyclones only keep 7 defensemen, the additional roster spot could be left open in the event Mattias Lidstrom (or another AHL player) is sent down, or the final spot could go to either Smyth or Bodie. Regarless of the outcome, the Cyclones will be returning a slew of players from last season’s North Division Championship team.

At this point it’s all speculation though. With the Team’s training camp trip to Alaska, where they split a 2 game series, all we have to go on are the box scores. We’ll find out with the rest of you as things unfold rolling into the weekend. There’s always a chance of players getting recalled so there’s no reason for Coach Simon to jump the gun on releasing players.

That’s all for now. Is it time to drop the puck yet?

 

**Update 10/16/13**

Just when we thought Florida was helping us out, they decided to complicate things by re-assigning John McFarland to Cincinnati. McFarland has the capability of being a game changing player at the ECHL level, unfortunately he’s another affiliated forward in a lineup already loaded with affiliated forwards. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good problem to have but there are downsides as well. Currently, with the addition of McFarland, the Cyclones have 16 forwards, 9 of which are affiliated with either Florida/San Antonio or Nashville/Milwaukee. Essentially it means that a very solid player (Embach or Birkholz) might have to be moved if nothing else changes. If that’s the case, Cyclones fans would do well to head over to Wikipedia to see if there’s a Patron Saint of Hockey Trainers or a Patron Saint of Healthy Hockey Players, at the very least, and start praying. If the Cyclones are forced to carry so many AHL affiliated forwards and the parent clubs get hit with too many long term injuries or illnesses the ‘Clones could find themselves scrambling to find players. Dealing with these scenarios was something Chuck Weber dealt with brilliantly, Jarrod Skalde eventually learned to deal with, and Coach Simon, well, hopefully he’s got connections in the right places.

The best case scenario is it receive 6 to 8 players from the affiliates. That bolsters the lineup but leaves enough ECHL free agents in place so when call-ups eventually happen the overall makeup of the team isn’t affected greatly. The ‘Clones find themselves with 11 affiliated players (not counting goaltender Scott “not Curtis” Darling), 9 of which are forwards. Coach Simon has a tough task in front of him in building this final roster. Yesterday we suggesting hoarding defensemen, and while we still like that idea, keeping 7 might be the most prudent thing to do, simply because carrying so few unaffiliated forwards is a poor decision.

If, however, Coach Simon likes the idea of hoarding defensemen, he does have some options however. First off, assess the health of the team, if there are any unaffiliated players dealing with injury or aren’t in game shape make arrangement to put them on 21 day IR as soon as possible. An ECHL team can place an unlimited number of players on 21 day IR, so if there’s a player, or players, that may not be in game ready until early November, put him on IR and deal with the numbers later; depending on other injuries and call-ups, it’s a problem that might even be avoided. Typically teams won’t use the 21 day IR for healthy players unless they’re willing to go on voluntarily, a la Mike Embach to start last season, so if everyone is healthy don’t expect to see more the 23 total players and that’s assuming a healthy players goes on the 21 day IR.

Another option is the get on the phone with the affiliates and request any players not game ready get re-assigned to the AHL. The AHL has different rules regarding injured reserve (it’s basically unlimited) and given the roster numbers the ‘Clones are dealing with, They can’t afford to offer a roster or IR spot to an affiliated player that isn’t game ready. Based on what we’ve seen coming out of San Antonio, this is the case with Mattias Lidstrom.

The final option if all else fails is trading someone. If it comes to this, we’re working on the assumption that Smyth and Bodie would be expendable over the likes of Embach and Birkholz. Both players are too valuable at this level to be released out right, so why not see if there’s any interest from other teams. If a trade were to be made the Cyclones would receive the dreaded “future consideration” which in the case could be a player down the road should the ‘Clones get hit with injuries and call-ups. If They don’t the deal could always be completed with cash at the end of the season.  It’s not the best option, but it is an option.

At this point all we can do is stay tuned and see how things sort themselves out. The opening day rosters are due into the League today by 3pm.

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With the quarter mark of the ECHL season fast approaching we felt CycWords was long over due for an update. So without any further adieu or fanfare, here are our thoughts on the Cyclones 2012-2013 campaign so far:

  • The ‘Clones are off to a start which rivals the 2008 Kelly Cup Champion Squad who posted 17 points in Their 1st twelve games (The 07-08 Team would go on to win Their 13th game while this years Squad lossed). While the Team is chalk full of talent this year, so is the rest of the League so we have to give credit where it’s due, and that is on the shoulders of the coaching staff. When Jarrod Skalde replaced Chuck Weber to start the 2011 season he brought along a more NHL style game (ie offensive). The downside to this was ECHL caliber players seemed to struggle with this type of game and the caliber of players required would play in the ECHL long before being called up. This season, with no end in sight to the NHL lockout, it looks like Coach Skalde has a group of guys capable of playing within the systems he’s coaching. Matt MacDonald also deserves a lot of credit. He’s brought an emphasis to the defensive zone play we haven’t seen since Chuck left. If you haven’t had a time to watch Making the Cut yet, we suggest you give it a look. You’ll see a change in terminology which has brought not only individual accountability to the defensive play but team accountability as well. We know there is still a lot of hockey to be played but while a Division, Conference or even playoff birth can’t be won in October/November, they can certainly be lost.
  • We know he’s been gone for 3 seasons now, but Chuck Weber gave us so many sayings about what successful teams do, it’s hard to not keep bringing them up. Coach Weber always said he wanted his teams to be “hard to play against.” He wanted guys finishing “bumps”, blocking shots and passing lanes, and keeping their feet moving. When they played their game, they won more often than not. I see the same mentality in Matt MacDonalds defense (Shocking right?). Being hard to play against is about taking away time and space, and we see guys buying in not only at the individual level but we see it from the 5 player units on the ice. The next time you’re at a game, watch the defensive zone play; if you see shots being blocked, passes deflected and the puck being kept in safe areas, then you’re probably seeing a Cyclones win. Is it cliché? Of course, but only because it’s true. In the Cyclones 3 losses this season they have been beaten in puck battles, not blocked shots and simply been soft defensively. It’s cliché because it’s true.
  • All but 3 (1 win and 2 losses) of the Cyclones 1st 12 games have been decided by 1 goal. If not for the empty net goal scored in the losses to Greenville and Reading it would be 12 of 13. On the plus side, the Team is 8-3-2 and all of the games were winnable; except for the Reading game in which a late 3rd period goal gave the ‘Clones a chance but in reality They ere dominated by the Royals. On the flipside, The ‘Clones were a just a bounce of the puck away from being 3-8-2.
  • Special teams’ play can win games, but it can lose games as well. Chuck Weber had a formula; if the power play and penalty kill percentages are added together, 100 is about break even (special teams win as many games as they lose), 105+ and your special teams will steal a game here and there, 110+ and your special teams is winning games for you, less than 100 and you’re losing games based on special teams. Right now, the Cyclones add up to 89.2% (9.9% power play and 79.3% penalty kill), that simply isn’t good enough. Look at the scoresheet from the Evansville game, the Cyclones went 0/5 on the PP, while the Icemen score twice with the man advantage. A goal on the PP and the Cyclones are assured a point. One less goal allowed on the PK and Their assured a point. Do both and They tally another regulation win. The argument could be made for all of the games the ‘Clones have dropped points in. The Cyclones special teams…right now they ride the short bus.

All of that being said, the Cyclones are off to a great start. At 8-3-2 They sit on top of the North Division with 18 points ahead of Toledo by a point but with 2 games in hand. The 3rd place Fort Wayne Komets trail by 3 points. While the Cyclones have dropped their last 2 games They’re still in great shape for this point in the season. We’ll be keeping an eye on the special teams play. At this point that could be the key to Their success this season. If they can’t get it together, well that’s a whole different story we don’t want to think about at this point.

More of the same…those words sum up the Cyclones organization pretty well as it heads into the 2012-2013 season. In this post we’ll give you our thoughts on the affiliates and coaches which will guide the ‘Clones through the season.

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There was no official press release regarding the affiliates but if you’ve been reading the press releases you know that it’s business as usual for the Team. Once again the Cyclones will maintain dual affiliates with both Nashville/Milwaukee and Florida/San Antonio feeding the ‘Clones players. We were impressed with the talent that came our way from San Antonio last season and we think we can expect it to continue this season. On the Nashville/Milwaukee side of things things have been pretty hit or miss over the years. This season that trend could change for the better.

This season, perhaps more than any in recent memory, the NHL affiliates could play a greater role throughout the ECHL. With the NHL locking out players and the their season up in the air, NHL teams are sending more players than ever to the AHL; the Florida Panthers have assigned 25 players (16 forwards, 5 defensemen and 4 goalies) to San Antonio while the Nashville Predators have supplied Milwaukee with 22 players (12 forwards, 8 defensemen and 2 goalies) and that’s not counting the NHL players which can be signed to AHL deals. How is that possible? The guys over at Admirals Roundtable explain it pretty clearly. There are some familiar names on those lists of players but we’ll take a close look at that in an upcoming post. There are limits on active roster sizes and it doesn’t take math PHD to realize that more quality players are going to trickle down the food chain. That could mean more young NHL prospects being assigned to the ECHL or more quality AHL contracted players filtering our way. It also means fewer roster spots for free agents throughout the minor leagues. The bottom line is the talent pool for minor league teams will be deeper and higher quality than it has in years. That is, if the NHL remains shut down…

As ECHL fans we’re hoping the the NHL and NHLPA come to terms quickly or not at all. If the NHL gets up and running in early October it would likely mean business as usual for teams in the ECHL. If the NHL season is fully lost, Cyclones’ fans will see a team that could rival the 2008 Kelly Cup Squad in regards to talent (the only problem is the rest of the League could be elevated to that level as well). The other side of the coin is if the NHL returns to operations in December, it would likely mean rosters would be gutted throughout the minors leaving those teams scrambling for players. If the lockout goes long term the advantage goes to teams with multiple affiliates. If the lockout ends mid-season the advantage goes to the teams who had single affiliations or none at all. The standoff between the NHL and NHLPA is something we’ll be keeping an eye on.

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Behind the bench it’s more of the same for the Cyclones as well. Jarrod Skalde will be returning, an off-season move which had many fans scratching their heads. Skalde, entering his 5th year as a head coach, his 3rd with the Cyclones holds a career coaching record of 128-131-37; he’s steered the Cyclones to 68-57-19 record over his 2 seasons behind the bench. Those aren’t exactly stellar numbers. Moreover, Skalde missed the playoffs, becoming just the 3rd coach to do so. We should note that we’re referencing the history of a team called the Cincinnati Cyclones, not just this current franchise; the ‘Clones missed the playoffs in 92-93, their first season in the IHL, under Dennis Desrosiers and in 03-04, the last season before suspending operation, under Chris Cichocki. In a pure coincidence we find ironic, Jarrod Skalde played a handful of games for that 92-93 team.

We’ve been hoping to put former head coach Chuck Weber behind us but he’s given us so many sound bites or Chuckisms, if you will that he’s a hard guy not to bring up. The Chuckism that comes to mind here is putting players in a position to play off their natural talents to succeed. It makes sense right, coaching to the abilities to your players. However, under Skalde, we haven’t seen it happening. In his 1st year with the Cyclones Skalde inherited two-thirds of a Kelly Cup Championship team. That team’s success was rooted in defense; enter Skalde, a much more offensively minded coach, and the team faltered. The common fan consensus was Skalde would be better with “his group of guys.” In year the 2 the ‘Clones had much more offensive roster. Were they “Skalde’s guys?” Perhaps not by choice but they were a group of offensively minded guys Skalde should have excelled with. Instead the results were much the same and we heard about roster turnover from call-ups and how young the team was. Our response to that is, it’s the ECHL, there will always be young players, and since the League is a feeder league to upper levels of hockey roster turnover will always exist. Those can’t be excuses, they are just what goes with being a coach in the ECHL. What can Cyclones expect this season? History tells us it will likely be more of the same.

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There could be a glimmer of hope on the horizon for the ‘Clones as for the 3rd consecutive season Coach Skalde will have a new assistant coach, former Cyclones’ defenseman Matt MacDonald. We know what you’re thinking, doesn’t Matt MacDonald plus Cyclones equal losing? While that phrase never actually came out of our mouths, we won’t lie, we weren’t the biggest fans of Matt as a player, but we’re hoping he can follow in the footsteps of another Cyclones’ defenseman turned coach, Dean Stork.

It’s no secret we prefer defense based hockey here at CycWords and coach MacDonald was considered a true defensive d-man. He also played under a very defensive minded head coach in Chuck Weber. Oh and did we mention he won a Kelly Cup Championship? So he’s a guy that knows what it takes to get there as a player. We’re hoping he can bring a more defensive mindset to the team.

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Training camp opens Friday. The on-ice workouts are open to the public and we’ll be trying to make it to a few to give you a run down on roster as we head into the preseason weekend and opening night.