Posts Tagged ‘South Carolina Stingrays’

If you’re a Cyclones’ fan the internet has been a place of doom and gloom over the past few weeks; player call ups and some lethargic play has had people thinking the worst. The last time we checked though, we saw the sky wasn’t falling, it was just rain, and as that little ginger orphan girl once sang, “the sun will come out tomorrow…” Well, it looks like the sun did come back out this past weekend as the Cyclones posted 2 big character building road wins against Greenville and Gwinnett. On paper things didn’t look good for the ‘Clones as they headed South without defensive anchor Chris Reed, and forwards Michael Pelech and Mathieu Aubin. Indeed, the Boys would fall behind but post 3rd period comebacks to pull 4 points out of the weekend. Here’s a quick side note regarding the Greenville game; Road Warriors head coach Dean Stork sent out his resident goon, Sean Berkstresser, as his final shooter in the shoot out, he does realize the shooter isn’t allowed to elbow the goalie in the head before shooting right?

The weekends’ wins keep the ‘Clones 4 points ahead of Toledo and 8 points clear of Fort Wayne in the North Division. They also, bring up and interesting talking point; the Team slumped coming out of the All Star break posting a 2-4 record despite having one of the most reinforced lineups they’ve had in some time. Fast forward to the trip South on the weekend and the Cyclones, with a roster weakened by call ups, play 2 very solid games. Did they coast through those games after the break thinking a talent filled lineup would see them through? Regardless of what the answer is, the results over the weekend, in the face of adversity, show the true character of this years team. In the ECHL, call ups happen and rosters change, but good teams find ways to win. That’s what the Boys did over the weekend.

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We know you’ve been waiting for it and here it is, the Cyclones have a magic number of 33. If you’re not familiar with how magic numbers work, here’s the deal, the number will decrease by 2 every time the Cyclones win and/0r the 9th place team (based on maximum points available) loses, and by 1 if the ‘Clones lose in OT/SO and/or the 9th place team loses in OT/SO. When the number is 0, the ‘Clones are in.

Since, Reading is the only team in the Eastern Conference that’s managed to create any separation from the field and with just 9 points separating 4th place Greenville (which actually has more points than the ‘Clones) and 9th place South Carolina, staying on top of the North Division is key to avoiding the dog fight for a playoff position. The Cyclones’ magic number to clinch the North Division is 43. The same rules apply to this number except rather than decreasing when the 9th place team loses, it decreases when the 2nd place team loses, which is currently Toledo.

The Cyclones have 22 games remaining so they do hold Their playoff future in Their own hands, but let’s face it, those are big numbers for this point in the season, so there’s no time to take a night off. What will it take to get in? Based on history 80pts should be good enough to get in, 75pts is questionable, and less than 75pts and you get an early tee time. If the Cyclones can manage .500 over their remaining games, they should be safely playing in April. What will it take to win the North Division? It’s hard to put a point total on it but 14 wins over the last 22 will put the Boys at 90 points which should do it, and that means maintaining Their current .620 point percentage.

Looking at the rest of the Conference, Evansville and Trenton are all but dead in the water, but the Cyclones still have 3 games left against each and They can’t afford to be complacent in those match-ups. Orlando isn’t far from having their bubble burst, they need to string some wins together in a hurry if they want to battle for the 8th playoff position. Wheeling and Kalamazoo are in a similar situation, a few more losses and both will get some extra nights to spend at their local casinos. That leaves the South Carolina Stingrays, they’ve got the best chance of all the teams on the outside. They’re tied with 8th place Fort Wayne, have played 2 more games at this point. On a personal note, we’re pulling for South Carolina here at CycWords, simply because we’d love to see the fan and media backlash that would occur in Fort Wayne if the Komets didn’t make the playoffs.

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So there you have it, the latest edition of CycWords. Teams slump sometimes, but it’s no reason to watch every episode of Doomsday Preppers on Netflix. it’s how they react in the face of adversity and the Cyclones have done just fine throughout the season. It will be a dog fight but there’s no reason to think the Boys won’t be playing hockey in April.

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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.

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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.

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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-

February was supposed to be moving month for the Cyclones. It was a month that would see them play 12 games in total, 10 of which would be at home. The Boys started the month 2 games above .500 (19-17-7) and battling for a playoff position and despite Their struggles at home this season there was no reason to think the Boys wouldn’t be making a move up the rankings. It wasn’t to be however as the Cyclones would post a .500 (5-5-2) for the month and finish right where they started, 2 games above .500 (24-22-9).

It all started innocently enough with an OT loss to South Carolina. It was a game the Cyclones probably should have won after leading 2-1 into the later stages of the 3rd period but take 5 of a possible 6 points from the South Carolina was a good sign. The wheels came off the bus in the next 2 games against Wheeling. The Nailers handed the Cyclones a 6-3 loss followed by a 6-3 loss. Then came the trades…several of them.

We’ll dive into the trades a little later but if you’re keeping score at home here is how it all went down. On February 7th the Cyclones acquired Paul McIlveen from Greenville for Chris Clackson. Then, not but 3 days later on the 10th, the Cyclones sent Sam D’Agostino and Christiaan Minella to Wheeling for Casey Pierro-Zabotel. Before the ink could even dry on the Pierro-Zabotel deal, Skalde acquired Samson Mahbod and Dan Eves from South Carolina in return for Ryan Del Monte. Things settled down until the end of the month when the Cyclones were required to send Paul McIlveen to Utah to complete the “future considerations” portion of the trade that brought Dylan Hunter to Cincinnati, er Milwaukee as the case may be (definitely more on this one later).

After the player swaps the over all play picked up and the Good Guys went 5-3-1 over the remaining 9 games. The can’t be considered a disappointment by any means, but it was a month that saw the ‘Clones leave some points on the table, as well as give some up to Division rivals like Kalamazoo.

And now on to the trades…

Clackson for McIlveen This was a big upgrade for the Cyclones. Clackson has a gritty, chippy nature to his game but in all honesty that’s about all he has. He isn’t a skilled offensive player and he’s average in his own zone. Basically, he’s that type of player Skalde already has a lot of…a grinder. McIlveen brought some more speed and offensive skill to the Cyclones. He is also a responsible defensively.

D’Agostino and Minella for Pierro-ZabotelThis trade wasn’t very popular as both D’Agostino and Minella young, solid ECHL level players, but fan favorites as well. D’Agostino is one of the quicker players the team has seen in a while and Minella brings energy and a natural physicality to his game. It was enjoyable to watch their games grow as the season progressed. The downside with the two is that their usage is limited. Neither Sam nor Christiaan saw extended power play or penalty kill time. This made the top 5 forwards see a lot of minutes and could have contributed to some the break downs that lead to late goals. Enter Pierro-Zabotel. Casey has the potential to be a game changing player. He brings plenty of offensive skill to the Squad, but more importantly, is proving to be responsible defensively. There were rumors out of Wheeling questioning his work ethic, but we haven’t seen anything in his game to raise any questions of this sort. Casey is strong on face offs and is capable of playing power play penalty kill minutes. Basically he adds quality and skill to the Cyclones cadre of forwards. Sam and Christiaan could have made for good building blocks for next season and it has disappointing to see them go, but solid ECHL level roll players like Christiaan and Sam aren’t that hard to find in the off season while players of Casey’s quality are and in the culture of the ECHL where contracts for players and coaches are typically 1 year deals, there is a lot of pressure to win now. There is no doubt the Cyclones are a better team with Casey on the Squad. We wish Sam and Christiaan the best of luck wherever their careers land them. Thanks for all your hardwork guys.

Ryan Del Monte for Samson Mahbod and Dan EvesAfter making the 2 for 1 deal for Pierro-Zabotel, and with a few of the guys a little nicked up, Skalde found his bench a little on the short side so in a move that was slightly reminiscent of sending Voakes (who was injured for much of the year) out West for Mathieu Aubin, Skalde stuck a deal with South Carolina sending Del Monte to the Stingrays in return for Dan Eves and Samson Mahbod. In the end this deal benefits the Cyclones pretty well. Mahbod’s fills the void left by the loss of D’Agostino, in fact he’s probably a step faster and has better hands. Mahbod Averaged more than a point per year through 5 seasons of play in the QMJHL. He’s bounced around in his first pro year, but has shown signs of what his potential could be putting up 20 points in 32 games. Eves brings in size and energy to replace what was lost when Minella was dealt. Eves is a 3rd year pro who had break out year last season for Trenton putting up 45 points in 59 games but has struggled to reach that pace this season. We were big fans of Del Monte’s game here on CycWords but let’s face it, he saw limited action with the Cyclones due to AHL opportunities and all indications where he would be getting more opportunities at that level. Essentially, the Squad was able to add to decent players for Del Monte who was a question mark on the season, not because of his play on the ice but because we were never sure if he’d be with the Team or in the AHL for a spell.

McIlveen fulfills “future considerations”This is the one that has the fan base screaming, unfortunately it was up to Utah and it could have been a lot worse. Over the summer, the Nashville Predators traded Ian McKenzie to Atlanta for defenseman Grant Lewis. Ok, no big deal there, but it created the need for Nashville/Milwaukee to add a depth forward and Dylan Hunter was the guy they wanted. The catch was Dylan Hunter’s player rights belonged to the Utah Grizzlies so the deal had to be made at the ECHL level. It’s our understanding, here at CycWords, that the Cyclones where basically asked to make the deal by Nashville/Milwaukee. The Cyclones ship Brett Motherwell off to Utah, done deal right? Sorry, Motherwell had all but signed an AHL deal with Bridgeport and Utah knew there was a high likelihood that Motherwell would never see time in a Grizzlies sweater, so they ask to have “future considerations” added to the deal. This is where the proceedings get ugly. From what we’ve been told, the deal stipulated that Utah would get a forward. The player could not be affiliated and the Cyclones could protect 2 of their non-affiliated players. The player that Utah wanted was Mathieu Aubin, luckily he impressed enough in his stint with Lake Erie that they wanted to keep him close and signed him to a deal. The Cyclones probably pushed for a cash buyout ot some point but Utah wouldn’t have it. They also inquired in to Dustin Sproat and Barret Ehgoetz. Skalde knew that Egho probably wouldn’t have reported and felt Sproat was just too important to the Squad so those 2 were protected. Apparently the deal was close to being completed shortly after McIlveen was acquired but Utah balked. Apparently the AHL deal Aubin signed raised some eyebrows and Utah wanted to get verification that Reynolds, Pierce and Robinson were indeed done for the year, feeling that we had put them on long term IR to protect them. In the end, McIlveen was the top performing, unaffiliated forward so that’s who they took.

The whole deal was a mess from the beginning and Skalde feels the deal could lead to some changes to the CBA to create structure to what “future considerations” are to keep things fair for all parties. Here’s the issue at hand; sure Motherwell never played for Utah, but there was a chance that Hunter could have stuck with Milwaukee from the beginning, never seeing time with the Cyclones. If this had been the case, the Cyclones would have still owed Utah a player. How is this a fair deal? As it stands, Hunter has seen limited time with the Cyclones due to assignment in Milwaukee, so how is fair for Utah to expect one of the Teams top forwards in return?

To conclude, it’s our understanding that the deal was created by Nashville/Milwaukee to fill their needs. Also, had the deal gone down a week or so earlier as was expected, McIlveen would have seen only limited action with the Cyclones and his loss wouldn’t seem so bad. Essentially the Cyclones gave up Chris Clackson, who is actually affiliated with Rochester, to fulfill the deal with Utah.

In other news…

The NHL trade deadline has brought another player to the Squad. The Florida Panthers had some dealings with the Washington Capitals and acquired the rights to Jake Hauswirth. Hauswirth is a big kid, 6’5” 205lbs and from what I recall from out games against the Stingrays he skates pretty well and should be a solid edition to the Squad.

Monday, March 7th is Clear Day for the AHL. We’ll have more information on Clear Day in an upcoming post.

The ECHL trade deadline is Friday, March 11th.

-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-

About a month ago I suggested the Cyclones would need to win about 60% of Their games from here on out and getting to .500 by the All Star break would be a good start. Well, the All Star break has come and gone, the Cyclones sit at .500 (17-17-7, 41pts) which is good enough for 8th in the Conference. The downside is that They are in a playoff position technically but are really on the outside looking in. The 2 teams chasing the Cyclones are the Kalamazoo Wings (40pts) and the Toledo Walleye (39pts), both of which have 2 games in hand on the Cyclones.

To make matters worse, it wasn’t that long ago when the Cyclones had 3 game series with Division leading Wheeling which could have flipped the standings. Instead the Cyclones won just 1 of the 3 games getting out scored 15 to 7 in the process.

The Cyclones have 31 games remaining, in order to reach the 75+ points which will probably be required to make the playoffs They will have to earn roughly 40pts. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for error.

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It wouldn’t be a season…if the Cyclones didn’t play the South Carolina Stingrays at some point. That’s exactly what the Cyclones will get this weekend as the ‘Rays come to town for a 3 game series. The rivalry, which dates back to the 07-08 season, usually takes place in the post season but with the post season in question for the Cyclones, the series will be a good test for the Cyclones moxie. The Sting Rays currently sit in 5th place in the Conference, 11 points clear of the Cyclones.

Lip Service…If you attend the Cyclones Coach’s Show or listen to Nick Brunker’s pregame segments you’ve heard things like “we’re built to win close games,” and “when we come out strong and make things difficult…” come from the Coach’s and players’ mouths. The problem is, all to often the Cyclones give up early goals and play soft in Their own zone and the game is out of reach. Until there is a hard effort on a consistent basis for 60 minutes They will continue to struggle.

Roster Changes…Over the past few games the Cyclones have seen a few new faces join the line up. First, Chase Watson came over in a trade from Trenton. Then David Sloane finally rejoined the team after spending the bulk of the season on IR. Also, in the midst of call ups and suspensions Jon Higgins and Tyler Fletcher joined the squad.

Watson, who was acquired from Trenton for the dreaded future consideration has performed admirably in his 1st 3 games with the Club posting 1 goal and 2 assists for 3 points.

Sloane, who spent most of the season on IR was a guy that CycWords had high hopes for. Unfortunately, he failed to live up to expectations and has since been released.

Higgins and Fletcher where both called up from Knoxville of the SPHL mostly to fill ins. Both were serviceable but have since been released.

Speaking of call ups…Dylan Hunter has been up in Milwaukee for some time and I don’t think he’ll be back anytime soon. With Jamie Lundmark leaving the Nashville organization for Europe there should be a semi permanent spot in the Admirals line up for Hunter.

Cyclones All Star Brian O’Hanley spent some time in Rochester prior to the ECHL All Star break where he notched his first AHL goal.

Former Cyclone Chris Mueller made his NHL debut shortly after we put him on out Christmas list. He tallied his 1st NHL point January 16th against the Chicago Blackhawks. He notched 2 more on the 18th in helping JP Dumont log a hat trick.

Catching up the success of current and former Cyclones wouldn’t be complete with mentioning David Desharnais and Cedrick Desjardins. Desharnais tallied his 1st NHL goal on January 12th against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Desjardins was called up to Tampa Bay over Christmas, mostly to get some NHL level practice in. When Tampa’s back up goalie was injured it opened the door for Cedrick to dress for the Lightning. Ceddy would ultimately play in back to back games, winning them both. His 1st NHL win came against the Montreal Canadiens.

2 Return…When the Cyclones take the ice tonight against the Sting Rays They will have the services of Ryan Del Monte and Adam Comrie. Del Monte returns after playing 15 games with Worchester. His grittiness is something the Cyclones could really use right now. Adam Comrie, returns from a brief call up to Rochester.

There could be more help on the way…Nashville has reassigned Chris Muller and Matt Halischuk to Milwaukee. The Preds are inactive until after the NHL All Star break so this is most likely a short term assignment. However, if it is long term it could send someone out way. We’ll keep and eye on it and report if we hear anything further.

 

-Mike-

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 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-