Posts Tagged ‘reading royals’

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.

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There is less than a month left in the regular season and the Eastern Conference Playoff picture is starting to shape up. There is still a lot to be determined so we thought we’d get out our prognosticating hats and make some Eastern Conference Playoff predictions. As of 3/4/11 the standings look like this:

 

Reading Royals – The Royals are in. The question will be it they can hang onto the top seed in the Conference. They will no doubt win the Atlantic Division which will assure them of a top 3 seeding. The Challenge for the top honours will come from Dean Stork’s Greenville squad.

Greenville Road Warriors – The Road Warriors have been one of the most consistent teams all season and will make the post season. Despite their lackluster performance for Dean Stork’s return to USBA, they will be the team to beat come playoff time. Greenville plays the right kind of game when it comes to play off hockey; defensively sound with solid goaltending.

Kalamazoo Wings – The Wings have been on a tear lately. They’re probably the hottest team in the Conference right now. They will most likely win the North Division and the 3rd playoff seed. The question that will determine the Wings success will be goaltending. Ryan Nie should be back stopping the Wings in the playoffs. We’re thinking their current use of Riley Gill is simply to get Nie some rest since he’s carried the load for the Wings all season. The issue with Nie is in his head. If the Wings can get him a lead, he gets confident and can play lights out. However, if the opposition can get to him early, the game can get out of hand before they realize it. The Wings play a tight checking game in both zones and have enough skill to take advantage of the opportunities they get.

South Carolina Stingrays – Cail MacLean’s team is in and could still possible contend for the South Division Title. The ‘Rays will have their work cut out for them if they want to catch the Road Warriors but once in the playoffs everyone starts from scratch with the same goal, 15 wins. The ‘Rays have a head coach in MacLean, who as an assistant to Jared Bednar, hoisted the Kelly Cup in 2009. Should it happen, a potential meeting between the Stingrays and the Road Warriors would be one to watch.

Florida Everblades – The ‘Blades fast start should have been enough to get them in. They’ve been struggling as of late due to lack of goaltending. They play a run and gun style of game which can put up goals in bunches but from what we’ve observed in their game, doesn’t yield much in the way in puck possession. In fact, in the games we’ve watched, whether it be in person of on AmericaOne, Florida doesn’t seem to interested in playing 5 on 5 possession type hockey, regardless of whether is offensively or defensively. It’s a game that’s fun to watch but puts a lot pressure on the net minders. We can’t see the ‘Blades sticking around too long if they don’t get the services of Goepfert or Janus back, especially since as the probable 5th seed they will get a 1st round match up with either South Carolina or Greenville.

***

The top 5 seeds are pretty safe. There could be a little shuffling to happen but the real discussion will take place over the 6th, 7th and 8th slots.

Wheeling Nailers – The Wheeling Nailers are in a complete free fall since losing the majority of the team to AHL call up. The Nailers’ success this season has been a direct result of the players assigned to them by their affiliates and now due to injuries throughout the food chain, they find themselves with a line up depleted of skilled players and despite their best efforts have gone winless in their last 10 games. The future doesn’t look bright for the Nailers either. There are 3 players on IR for the Pens that the Wilkesbarre/Scranton Baby Pens were hoping to have on their Clear Day rosters, unfortunately there is no loop hole, if a player is on a NHL roster at the trade deadline he is not eligible to be on the Clear Day Roster and therefore not eligible to play the reainder of the AHL season, including the Calder Cup Playoff. That all translates to 3 more players Wheeling won’t be getting back as well. In fact, the Nailers were lucky to get Schnell and Haddad back. Taking a look at the Nailers’ remaining schedule, we feel their going to have a hard time hanging on. If they do, it will be for 8th.

Elmira Jackals – The Jackals are a bit of a surprise right now. They’ve gone from being a struggling team to being on a roll; all since firing Malcolm Cameron. Elmira currently holds the tiebreaker with Cincinnati having one more win than the ‘Clones. The question for Elmira will be if they can keep up the current run or if their recent success is just a boost from the coaching change.

Cincinnati Cyclones – We haven’t always agreed with coach Skalde’s philosophies here on CycWords but one thing is clear, he’s going to do what he feels is best to get the Team playing the way he wants. This season that has meant changing the roster. Those decisions haven’t always been popular with fans but there is no doubt the team is better now than they were at the beginning. There are still some questions remaining, especially around the defensive core and goaltending but overall Skalde and Co have done enough to get in provided they keep it going.

Gwinnett Gladiators – The Gladiators are on the outside looking in right now. They will have to overtake both Cincinnati and Toledo to get in. Even with a game left against the Cyclones, the 2 extra games played by the Gladiators will probably haunt. The Gladiators best chance lies in going on a run over their last 6-8 games and get help from Toledo in the form of wins over the Cyclones.

Toledo Walleye – Of the teams on the outside, Toledo probably has the best chance of sneaking in. They have 3 games left with Wheeling which could prove to be pivotal for the 8th spot, not to mention the 3 games remaining against the Cyclones. It’s been a common theme in this post, but Toledo’s success will be tied into their goaltending. The Fish have struggled defensively all year allowing the 2nd most goals in the Conference. If they don’t tighten up in their own zone it will be an early tee time.

Trenton Devils – We just checked in with the country club and their tee times are already booked. Let’s face it, while not mathematically eliminated, the Devils have been awful all season and there’s no reason to think that is going to change.

***

Back in January we guessed it would take roughly 75 points to get in. It still looks like that is going to be the number. That being said here’s our guess at the final standing:

  1. Reading Royals
  2. Greenville Road Warriors
  3. Kalamazoo Wings
  4. South Carolina Sting Rays
  5. Florida Everblades
  6. Elmira Jackals
  7. Cincinnati Cyclones
  8. Wheeling Nailers

There could be some shuffling in the top 5 but we think they’re pretty well set. The question is going to be Wheeling’s free fall; if Killeen and Delmas can stay healthy they should be able to hang on. However, even if they do to hang onto 8th, they would get a 1st round match up with Reading which will not likely end well for them. There is a chance the ‘Clones could overtake Elmira for the 5th spot but given that it sets up a 1st round date with Kalamazoo, we would rather them stick in 7th.

The top the 3 teams get to select the 1st round format which will be best of 5, they can choose between hosting games 1 and 2 or games 3-5. We guess that unless there are other issues (building usage etc) teams will have learned from last season and start on the road.

In the Quarter final match ups we’ve got…

Reading over Wheeling 3-1 – Killeen will be able to steal a game but not much more.

Greenville over Cincinnati 3-2 – We really hope the Boys can carry the success they’ve had against the South Division into the playoffs, but we can’t see the Boys pulling off an upset. Especially  Dean Stork has his full roster back, Greenville is just scary if that’s the case.

Kalamazoo over Elmira 3-1 – Kalamazoo is playing their best hockey of the year right now and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue. We doubt the Jackals ability to keep their current momentum going.

South Carolina over Florida 3-1 – South Carolina is the real dark house and Florida’s play is too one dimensional. The ‘Rays should handle the ‘Blades without too much of and issue.

In the Semifinals…

South Carolina beats Reading 4-2 – Reading will put up a fight but Cail MacLean’s defense will get the job done.

Greenville beats Kalamazoo 4-2 – Despite how well they’re playing now, we can’t see the Wings upsetting Greenville. The Road Warriors are the team to beat.

That will set up South Carolina and Greenville in the Conference Finals. We’re going to give to Greenville 4-3. That will send Dean Stork to the Kelly Cup Final where he’ll probably face either Las Vegas or Alaska. If it’s Las Vegas, anyone want to go?

-Mike-

As we get ready to roll into March and the real push for the playoffs we thought it would be good to bring up the magic numbers that will give everyone an idea of where things stand. First and foremost the Eastern Conference standings currently look like this:

1 *Reading Royals 55 35 15 2 3 75 0.682 192 165 0-2-0-0 7-3-0-0 818
2 *Greenville Road Warriors 58 35 20 2 1 73 0.629 197 157 3-0-1-0 6-3-1-0 805
3 *Kalamazoo Wings 56 30 20 2 4 66 0.589 202 188 9-0-0-2 8-0-0-2 926
4 South Carolina Stingrays 57 32 21 2 2 68 0.596 163 163 3-0-1-0 6-2-1-1 771
5 Florida Everblades 59 30 25 1 3 64 0.542 200 185 0-1-1-0 4-4-1-1 1045
6 Wheeling Nailers 56 29 24 0 3 61 0.545 185 166 0-8-0-1 1-8-0-1 932
7 Elmira Jackals 55 25 23 6 1 57 0.518 200 200 3-0-0-0 5-3-1-1 1169
8 Cincinnati Cyclones 55 24 22 6 3 57 0.518 159 180 0-1-0-0 5-4-0-1 1020
9 Gwinnett Gladiators 57 25 25 2 5 57 0.500 167 198 3-0-0-0 5-5-0-0 1002
10 Toledo Walleye 55 25 26 3 1 54 0.491 179 206 0-3-0-0 4-6-0-0 956
11 Trenton Devils 57 21 31 1 4 47 0.412 179 208 0-3-0-1 4-5-0-1 995

 

With that out of the way, here’s how the “magic numbers” break down:

Reading – 14

Greenville – 16

Kalamazoo – 23

South Carolina – 21

Florida – 25

Wheeling – 28

Elmira – 32

Cincinnati – 32

The “magic number” represents the number of points needed to reach 89 points which is one more than Toledo (currently in 10th place but can potentially score more points than Gwinnett bases on 2 fewer games played). The number decreases by 2 each time the team wins or when Toledo (or whichever team is in 9th place based on total available points) loses. The number decreases by 1 when the team or 9th place team loses in OT/SO. When the “magic number” hits 0 the team can not finish lower than 8th and is in the playoffs.

There is also a “tragic number” for those teams on the outside looking in. The “tragic number” is essentially the number of points the team is away from being eliminated. They are as follows:

Trenton – 22

Gwinnett – 32

Toledo – 33

The “tragic number” reduces by 2 when the team loses or the 8th place (currently Cincinnati) wins in regulation and by 1 when the team loses in OT/SO or the 8th place team loses in OT/SO. When the “tragic number” hits 0 the team has been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

For example, if the Cyclones beat Toledo in regulation, the ‘Clones “magic number” becomes 28 based on the Cincinnati win and Toledo loss. Toledo’s “tragic number” would become 18. That’s the proverbial 4 point game that we talk about at times.

It’s important to keep an eye on the standings to see where teams stand, as the 8th and 9th place teams will change and the “magic/tragic” numbers will then be effected by other teams.

Get it?

Here’s how the schedule breaks down for the battling for the last few playoff spots:

CIN TOL ELM GWT TRE
Games remaining 17 17 17 15 15
Games left with group 5 8 7 5 9
Games left with CIN X 4 0 1 0
Games left with TOL 4 X 1 0 3
Games left with ELM 0 1 X 2 4
Games left with GWT 1 0 2 X 2
Games left with TRE 0 3 4 2 X
Games left with REA, GRV, KAL 8 5 8 6 11

So what does it all mean?

For Cincinnati, while the Division isn’t mathematically out of reach the ‘Clones will need loads of help and is unlikely. The ‘Clones could climb as high as 5th but given the inconsistent play that has plagued Them throughout the season it is much more likely for them to hold onto 8th or perhaps climb to 6th or 7th. The 3 games with Toledo will be key and could determine whether the Fish or the ‘Clones make a run for the Cup. The way the schedule plays out, the Kalamazoo Wings are quite the allies of the Cyclones as just about any K-Wings win (provided they aren’t against the Cyclones) will benefit the ‘Clones’ playoff chances.

Toledo will get Trenton 3 more times before playing 5 of 7 against current Division leaders. It makes those 3 games must wins for the Fish. The 3 game series with Cincinnati at the end of March could be even more important for the Fish than the ‘Clones. Toledo may have to take 2 of 3 to get in.

Elmira has been on a roll since firing Malcolm Cameron (go figure!) and hold the tie breaker with the ‘Clones based on wins (25 to 24). The Jackals have 4 more games with Trenton which could go along way towards getting them into the post season. However, time will tell if the Jackals current form is just a surge as a result of Cameron’s firing as often happens after coaching changes or if they’re really making a run. If they really have found their stride, they should sneak in.

Gwinnett probably has the toughest road to the post season of the teams battling for the final few spots. The Gladiators have played 2 more games than all but Trenton. Also, 11 of their remaining 15 are either against teams fighting for their playoff lives (5) or division leaders (6). The 5 games with the teams in the playoff battle will be must wins, any points dropped here could seal their early tee times.

The Trenton Devils are all but dead in the water. While they are good against the teams in the playoff battle (10-8-1), 6 of their remaining games are against Division leaders. They have a mathematical chance of getting in but they have to turn it around now and have no room for error.

The Wheeling Nailers should make it in. However, if their current struggles continue, which is very possible, it could get dicey near the end. Wheeling’s success is tied directly to their roster and with so many guys being called up, and finding success in the AHL, even if they make it, they aren’t likely to hang around long unless they get those guys back.

Reading, Greenville, South Carolina, Kalamazoo and Florida are all in baring monumental collapses down the stretch.

So there you have it. We’ll be trying to update the Cyclones’ magic number for you as it changes. We’ll be back tomorrow to look back at February and weigh in the the trades and other personnel changes. We’ll also be bring you the first draft of our playoff predictions later in the week.

-Mike-

Sorry everyone, I said I was going to update the blog yesterday but I was so exhausted from Game 7 and our post game festivities that I just didn’t have it in me. Better late than never right?

In 2007-2008, the Cyclones had one of those historical kinds of years putting up 115pts in route to capturing the Brabham Cup, not to mention every other Trophy in the League sans 2; they weren’t allowed to win the National Conference Championship and David Desharnais should have won the Sportsmanship Award.

This year there were no regular season awards to lay claim to, no division title and a playoff seed that would have them face South Carolina and Charlotte without a home ice advantage. None the less, this years Squad will go down in history as the 1st team in ECHL history and just the 6th team in professional hockery to win a 7 game series after falling into a 3 games to none hole.

During the 1st two series against South Carolina and then Charlotte the Cyclones built up the statistical anomaly of winning had every odd numbered game while losing every even numbered game. The Boys had never defeated the same team in consecutive games, nor had They lost to the same team in consecutive games. And then came Reading…

The Royals came to town and were everything they were billed up to be. They were skilled and had a potent power play that had no trouble capitalizing on the oppositions mistakes. Defensively, they were more than capable and when there were breakdowns there was Matt Dalton in net to erase them.

The Cyclones played well enough to win the 1st 2 games of the series, but couldn’t solve Dalton and ultimately headed to Reading down 2-0 in the series. Game 3 felt like a must win for the Boys but again, Dalton came up big. Again, it wasn’t that Reading was out playing the Cyclones, it was more that Dalton was “in the zone” and even though the Royals had all the momentum it just felt like if the Cyclones could just crack Dalton they could extend the series. They only problem was there was no margin for error.

In game 4, Dalton crack and when he did the flood gates opened. The Cyclones, after scoring just 5 goals in the 1st 3 games of the series lit Dalton up for 6 goals to force a game 5. The 6 goals were scored by a Cyclones line up, which on paper, looked much less potent. The Cyclones leading scorer, Jimmy Kilpatrick, was made a healthy scratch by Coach Weber. During a pregame interview Coach said the decision was made because Jimmy was playing outside of the Team Dynamics and he would be back in the line up when he had his “attention”

In Game 5, Chuck made another surprising decision; not only was Kilpatrick still sitting in the stands, but playoff stand out Jeremy Smith would be replaced in goal by Robert Mayer. The offense continued to convert, putting 4 in the back of Dalton’s net before he was pulled to start the 3rd. Mayer was stellar, as was the defense in front of him. Mayer would post a 29 save shut out to send the series back to Cincinnati.

Oh, and then there was the brawl. Reading was obviously a frustrated team and by the 3rd period went from frustrated to frazzled. The Video doesn’t really show how things got started, but from putting together different accounts here is a composite account of what went down. Royals Captain Dinos Stamoulis began slashing every that moved. Ryan Del Monte took exception and slashed at Stamoulis’ stick, which was being waved at chest/head level. Del Monte was then atacked from behind by 2 other Royals players. At that point, everyone grabbed a partner and the chaos was on. Both teams would be fined, the Royals would have Stamoulis and Kwiet suspended for 1 game each and Cyclones lost the services of Ryan Del Monte as a result of the frackous.

Game 6 told the story of the series as far as I’m concerned. Reading came out of the gate quickly and jumped to a 2 goal lead. The Reading players celebtrated each goal as if it were a Championship clincher. The Cyclones then struck back, scoring 3 goals in a span of around 1:30. Reading did tie the score late in the 1st but he seed of doubt had been sowed. I can remember looking at the Reading bench after Barret Ehgoetz’s goal at 10:26 of the first, the Royals players sat, seemingly emotionless, their faces dead pan while their coach stood there statching his head. Even when Reading tied the game late in the 1st there was little sign of positve emotion. During the 1st intermission, while Larry Courville was possibly still scratching his head, Cyclones’ Coach Weber was making another excellent coaching move. Robert Mayer didn’t have the greatest period giving up 3 goals on just 7 shots so Chuck decided to go with Jeremy Smith to start the 3rd and the shutout streak began.

Game 7, saw Smith continue in net and he continued to stimy the Royals. Dalton was strong in net, but the ‘Clones converted when Ehgoetz found the back of the net on a very nice pass from Dustin Sproat. It was all the ‘Clones would need as they continued to shut out the now struggling Reading offense.

The thing that I will remember from Games 6 and 7 were the crowds. While not the largest crowds to take in a playoff game at USBA they were two of the loudest. The only crowd with more energy that sticks out in my mind was Game 6 of the Finals in 2008. The greatest part was that it seemed everyone was there for the game. Sure, cheap beer is great but there was history being made and people seemed to know it.

Next up is Idaho, who as the regular season National Conference Champions recieved a 1st round playoff bye and have only played 10 games to the Cyclones 19. I don’t want to go into a rant on the playoff formula but I will say that the only thing worse than what they came up with would have been to just let all 8 National Conference Teams in. There had to be a better way.

Here are some things to keep an eye on:

– Idaho’s Adam Huxley and Cincinnati’s Hans Benson could provide some fireworks this series. Although, unless completely necessary Hans should try to keep his hands to himself. Benson plays a regular shift and has potential to contribute offensively, whereas Huxley is only really suited to collecting penalty minutes.

– Where oh where is Jimmy Kilpatrick? Does Chuck have his attention yet? I would look for a refreshed and motivated Kilpatrick should he return to the line up.

– The French express are going to have to pick it up. Mathieu Aubin has picked up his offensive game late in the Reading series and that needs to continue. Maxime Lacroix has been a streaky scorer this season. He plays as hard as anyone but sometime the points just don’t come. Now is as good a time as ever for him to start a scoring streak.

– The series will showcase some of the leagues best goaltending. Idaho will be going with Rejean Beauchemin, who has only played 3 playoff games thus far and hasn’t looked stellar but his regular season numbers indacte he is quite capable. The Steelheads  rookie sensation Richard Bachman is currently on assignment in the AHL. His availabilty could have a big effect on the series outcome. The Cyclones also boast 2 qualtiy netminders, who, thus far, haven’t shown any signs of playoff pressure effecting them.

– Secondary scoring will be key, as it always in the Playoffs. On paper, Idaho looks similar to Reading in that they get the bulk of their scoring from just a few guys. On the other hand, the Cyclones only have 1 player averaging more than 1 point per game, but it seems that every game the Boys get scoring from somewhere. Guys like Sproat, Eghoetz and Van Guilder will have to keep it going, but scoring  from guys like Will Ortiz and Josh Heidinger can make the difference in the Series.

– Special teams will continue to be a hot topic. The Cyclones’ power play has improved lately but still isn’t great. Idaho is converting at  just under 20% so staying out of the box for the Cyclones will continue to be key. The PK’s look to be fairly comparable with the ‘Clone killing just over 80% and Idaho killing just under 80%. Interestingly, both teams have posted 4 short handed goals.

– The numbers really don’t mean a thing. Since there was no interconference play this season, there really isn’t a way to compare the teams stat wise. Factor in that Idaho hasn’t played as many games as the Cyclones and those numbers become meaningless. In the past when American Conference teams would travel out west I could look at records and stats and make assessments accordingly. This season all we can really do is wait for them to play the game.

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-

The Boys came out firing on all cylinders Saturday night and captured a 3-2 win highlighted by a 1 goal, 1 assist night for Dustin Sproat and the beat down Hans Benson gave to Rob LaLonde. In the Sunday afternoon rematch the Cyclones came out flat in the first giving up 2 early goals and they never really recovered on the way to a 4-2 loss, their first loss in 5 games. The weekend split with Reading shows how far the Team has come since the start of the year, but also shows there is still growing to do.

-The Cyclones put forward Mark O’Leary on waivers Saturday. This was probably to make room for Mark Van Guilder, but could also indicate that Mark Voakes is getting close to returning.

-Speaking of Mark Van Guilder…I thought he looked like he was pressing and trying to force his game a bit on Saturday night. He looked much more like the player of last season on Sunday. He didn’t register on the score sheet in either game, but if his play on Sunday is any indication, that will should change soon. In possibly related news, it’s been reported that Nashville forward Jordan Tootoo is out for 4 to 6 weeks. I haven’t seen any roster moves yet, but with Milwaukee playing tonight in Toronto and Tuesday in Hamilton, Nashville playing tonight and Thursday night, I’ll be surprised if something doesn’t happen at some point.

-Dwayne Zinger…OK OK, I’ll leave him alone, at least until Tuesday. Honestly, I think Dwayne played his 2 best games of the season and I hope he keeps it up.

-I liked what I saw out of Jeremy Smith. In past games I’ve noticed him struggle after giving up early goals. I thought he played very well, in spite of giving up the 4 goals. On the 1st goal there were maybe some things he could have done different, but it was an amazing pass from former ‘Clone Ben Gordon to Daniel Steiner, who had eluded his check to receive the pass as he skated to the weak side post unmolested, that made the goal. Then second goal deflected off of Doug Krantz. He probably wants the 3rd goal back, but it was a well placed rocket of a shot by Stefano Giliati that was created by a horrendous turnover off the stick of Ryan Del Monte. On the 4th, a power play goal, the puck managed to find it’s way through 4 players, who were all screening Jeremy, before finally finding the back of the net. Smith battled throughout, in a game that, from the start, just felt like it was going to be one of those games were nothing goes right.

-Reading won the special teams battle going 2 for 12 on the power play whereas the Cyclones were shutout on their 7 chances.

-Whoever picked the 3 stars for Sunday’s game put them in the wrong order. Personally would have gone with Zinger with the 3rd star, Gordon (Reading) with the 2nd and Reading goalie Dalton as the 1st. Sure Gordon had 2 assists, but Dalton stopped 36 of 38 shots and of those 38, 25 of them were high quality chances.

-I had a friend in the visitor’s tunnel waiting to play for the Cincinnait Fire Fighter Hockey Team and he relayed to me how visibly upset the Royals were with their play on Saturday Night. It’s impossible to know how the short turnaround effected the Cyclones, but Reading came out firing on Sunday and the score could have been much worse after the first period. I hope the Cyclones were as upset with their Sunday performance as Reading was with theirs the previous night.

-Next up is Toledo this Tuesday night (12/15).  Toledo will come to town on a 3 game win streak and trailing the Cyclones by just 1 point in the standings; the ‘Clones do have 2 games in hand on the Walleye.

Here is some quick news and notes as we head into a 2 game set with Reading:

-The Cyclones should have a new face in the line-up this weekend. According to the AHL transaction page Mark Van Guilder has been loaned to Cincinnati. Van Guilder led the 08-09 Cyclones with 22g-44a for 70pts. He’s played in 13 games for the Admirals. His production has struggled a bit in the AHL, and with the play of Chris Mueller, Milwaukee can afford to send Mark here for a few games to hopefully jump start his game. Mark got off to a slow start last season but came on strong late in the season after finding confidence in his game.

-Speaking of Chris Mueller, he’s played in 12 games for the Admirals scoring 2 goals and logging 3 assists. If he continues with that effort, I can’t see him coming back to Cincinnati anytime soon.

-The Reading Royals come to town leading the East Division with 29 points, which is also good for 3rd in the conference. The Cyclones have 27 points but have 2 games in hand on the Royals.

-Reading will give up goals. While the Royals come into town with a winning record they have given up more goals than they’ve scored. Their roster boasts 4 goalies, 3 of which have GAA’s over 3. Rookie Matt Dalton gets the bulk of the action for the Royals and sports a 3.47 GAA and a .906 SV%.

-Return of the Bens and a Joey. Ben Gordon, Ben Mcleod and Joey Ryan will return to Cincinnati. Gordon and McLeod, along with 2 players to be named later, were sent to Reading at the trade deadline last season for Mac Faulkner and Gerard Miller. Joey Ryan became a part of the trade in the post season  and was expected to play this season for the Toronto Marlies but found himself at the bottom of the depth chart for the defensively deep Marlies. The final player in the trade was Kyle Rank who is currently playing for the Portland Pirates. An underachiever last season Gordon leads the Royals with 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points.

-The Cyclones PK Unit has climbed back to 2nd in the league, killing off 85.4% of the short handed situations they face. The Royals on the other hand are 18th in the league with just a 79.5% kill rate. The teams have nearly identical PP Units; the Cyclones converting on 16.5% of their chances and Reading converting at 16.4%. Reading has accumulated over 200 more PIMs than the Cyclones, so I give the Cyclones the advantage in the special teams battle.

-Reading has 2 players in the top 20 of the League when it comes to scoring in Ben Gordon and Daniel Steiner.

This is definitely not last years Reading Royals team. They’ve been upgraded at nearly every position. I think the the keys for the Cyclones are:

*Be tenacious on the forecheck. Get pucks deep and keep them there.

*Get a goal early. With 2 young net minders and most likely playing against a rookie goalie, getting the first goal does wonders for the confidence of whom ever we have in net and establishishes doubt in the head of the opposition.

*Stay balanced. The past few games have seen different lines and different players involved in the scoring making it very difficult to match up defensively.

*Shut them down. The numbers indicate that Reading gets much of their scoring from just a few players. The Cyclones have to shut these guys down and force someone else to step up.

*Win the 5 on 5 game and make Reading pay on the PP. The Cyclones have been iffy on the PP this season but with Readings questionable PK Unit, the Cyclones have to convert and make Royals pay.

-Mike-