CINCINNATI, OH – After missing the Eastern Conference playoffs by a handful of points last season, the Cyclones parted ways with a long-time affiliation partner, received a new bounty from the Rochester Americans, and landed a pair of big name free agents.
Head Coach: Matt Macdonald
– 4th year overall as a Head Coach, all of them spent with Cincinnati
– Career regular season record of 103-86-27 behind the bench
– Regular season record of 36-29-7, finished with 78 points
– Finished 5th place in the South Division
– Did not qualify for the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs
Looking at the 2016-17 Cincinnati Cyclones is like literally looking at a glass half full. You get a refill at the concession stand of whatever you’re drinking, get back to your seat and realize that your cup was only filled halfway. For the Cyclones, their defense was there as they were one of the stingiest teams in the ECHL, allowing just 209 goals against (5th in the ECHL). However, their offense was not there as they only scored 200 goals (23rd in the ECHL).
Last season is where the subtitle “Trying Not to Stall at the Starting Gate” came from. The Cyclones began last fall by dropping their first three games, then five of their first seven. At the half-way point of the season, the club had a below-average record of 17-15-4. The team hit that “rock bottom” moment in January during a stretch where they lost eight of nine games, including getting absolutely slaughtered by Missouri during a three-game set at the end of the month. The wake-up call had been sent, and Cincinnati then went on a 17-5-0 tear during the second half. However, it was not enough to secure a playoff spot as they fell just a couple wins short.
Out of all the areas the Cyclones struggled in, the offense needed the most retooling over the summer, and it was showcased during the preseason set in Wheeling over the weekend that this year’s squad will be a lot faster. Especially in the game last Friday night, the Cyclones top line consisted of Shane Walsh, Justin Danforth, and veteran Jesse Schultz. That line may be too fast for its own good. If those three stay together for any considerable amount of time, they are going to be lethal together.
Resiliency will also be a character of this team. In both games and even in Sunday’s affair where they played their tryout guys and left most of their big guns (Eric Knodel, Arvin Atwal, Justin Vaive, Brandon McNally, Danforth, Schultz, etc) at home, they were never out of those games. Each time they fell behind, they fought right back into it and kept a Wheeling line-up that included a good chunk of their regulars on their heels all night. Not too bad for a group that had only been playing on lines together for a handful of days.
Eric Knodel – Served as an alternate captain for the second half of last season. Led all Cyclones defensemen in scoring with 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists) in 58 games. The Cyclones haven’t had an actual captain since David MacDonald in 2014-15, but I believe Knodel has made a case to change that this season.
Shane Walsh – Made an immediate impact after being acquired last November from the Utah Grizzlies by putting up 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in 58 contests with Cincinnati. My full expectation is for Walsh to have a breakout year.
Arvin Atwal – Brings the best of three worlds to the Cincinnati blue line. Can contribute offensively (17 points in 39 games) while at the same time playing responsibly on the back-end (led the team in plus/minus with a plus-11) as well as proving a major physical presence (second on the team with 98 penalty minutes).
Jesse Schultz – Don’t let his age fool you, he can still play at a high level and contribute on the offensive side of things. A veteran of over 375 American Hockey League contests, he has put up 252 points in the AHL as well as averaging over a point-per-game during his time in the ECHL. In addition to being an offensive catalyst, also will provide veteran leadership, something that lacked last year.
Jonas Johansson – Assigned by Rochester, he is entering his first full season in North America and is more than likely the early favorite to be the Cyclones new #1 goaltender. The entire Buffalo Sabres organization has high expectations for him, so if he lives up to the hype, Cincinnati has their new Houser.
Winston Day Chief – A former captain of the Rapid City Rush, returns to North America for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign. A bit of grinder that will both put up points and go to the dirty areas for this team as he’s a guy that will go to work in front of the net and win puck battles in the corner.
Movin’ On Up
Justin Vaive – A graduate of nearby Miami (OH) University that has played 274 in the AHL. He’s an AHL mainstay. Was signed by Cincinnati last fall, but played one game, got called up and spent the rest of the year in the AHL. I will be happy if he just sticks around for more than one game this time.
Justin Danforth – A smaller sized speedy forward with unreal offensive ability. Also assigned to Cincinnati by Rochester, if he spends a majority of this season in the ECHL, he is going to be among the league’s top rookies and put up big numbers for this team.
Blocked and Reported
Nick Huard – Led the Cyclones in scoring during the 2016-17 campaign with 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists). Huard is the only member of the club to play in all 144 regular season games in the last two seasons combined. Currently playing in Germany with the Dresden Ice Lions.
Jordan Sims – Was tabbed as Cincinnati’s “unsung hero” last season. Was one of few the Cyclones could regularly depend on for offense on an almost nightly basis with 44 points (15 goals, 29 assists) in 59 appearances. Currently playing in France with Lyon.
Michael Houser – Without Houser serving as “the rock” in goal, the Cyclones would’ve been in a lot worse shape than what they were last year. An elite goalie in this league that had a 22-14-1 record with a 2.58 goals against average and 0.919 save percentage last year. Much to the displeasure of Cincinnati fans, Houser is preparing to be the #1 goalie for the Fort Wayne Komets this season on assignment from the AHL’s Tucson RoadRunners.
I know I’m going to regret saying this later knowing my terrible history with making predictions but… if this team stays healthy, all the puzzle pieces are there, if they can make them fit, this team will be in the playoffs in April.