CINCINNATI, OH – After a rather long off-season in southwestern Ohio, it feels good to finally say that hockey is back!
In Cincinnati, the Cyclones opened up their 2017 training camp on Monday morning as 30 players are currently jostling for position on Cincinnati’s opening night roster, which is due to the ECHL by next Wednesday. Players are currently learning the systems they’ll be playing this season as well as their new linemates as they prepare for the upcoming preseason tilts in Wheeling this Friday and Sunday.
The team has only been on the ice for a couple days now, but Head Coach Matt Macdonald doesn’t have any complaints from his group early on.
“I like the guys’ compete level, and their work ethic”, said Macdonald. “Everybody came into camp in shape. We put them through the paces pretty good, and they’re all upbeat. Guys are making a lot of plays that I’m really happy to see, and there’s been a lot of good hockey instincts out there from the start.”
Macdonald’s camps are known to have a lot of high-intense skating early on, and for newcomers like Winston Day Chief, he’s getting his feet wet in a new city that former Cyclone, Riley Weselowski played a role in his decision to come to and will go to work in the dirty areas for his new team.
“Early on, it’s about getting your legs under you, and getting comfortable”, remarked Day Chief. “Intensity level has been up, there’s been a good pace out there. I’m at my best when I’m getting to work in the corners, and you’ll be seeing me working in front of the net a lot.”
Before looking ahead to the upcoming campaign, you have to look back at last season. The Cyclones missed the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs by just a pair of wins. There’s multiple factors you could point to as to where things may have gone wrong. However, the big one you could point to would be the start to the 2016-17 season for this team. To say the first 20-25 games were “rough” would be an understatement.
“Last year, I didn’t think our team came together as quick as I wanted it to”, added Macdonald. “We didn’t have many returners and that might have been part of it. This year, we’ve got seven or eight guys coming back. We have a lot of new guys that have bought in with high character values. Another part would be our work ethic on the ice. We’re putting them through a hard camp so when the season starts, our conditioning and compete level will be extremely high.”
Injuries were another nagging factor of last year’s squad. Whether it was an injury that lasted a couple days, a couple months, or in Rob De Fulviis‘ case, the rest of the season. De Fulviis is seeing the ice this week for the first time in eight months and we had to see what exactly was going through his mind as he’s finally able to suit up once again.
“January 21st was the injury”, remarked De Fulviis. “I’m just excited to be back. Even though I didn’t get to finish out the season last year, I had a great time with the organization. Mac (Macdonald) gave me a shot last year and I felt I owed it to him to come back, play for him again and get things rolling.”
Probably the weakest part of last season would be on the offensive side of things as well as veteran leadership. Last year, the Cyclones only accounted for 200 goals scored which was among the league’s worst in that category. A remedy to fix that? Bring in a 15-year veteran that has averaged over a point-per-game in his ECHL career as well as putting up over 250 points in the American Hockey League. Jesse Schultz is expected to have a major impact on the 2017-18 squad.
“That’s what I’m here to do, is provide offense and veteran leadership”, said Schultz. “I’m not getting any younger and I still feel like I can play at a high level. You can see how young this league is, you can also see team’s adding older guys, and every team needs that veteran leadership. I’ve seen a lot and have played for a lot of really good coaches where you pick up things from each one over the years.”
Going back to the point on veteran leadership, Schultz is currently the only veteran on the roster, so being someone who has done this for a decade and a half, he’s going to be “the guy” in the locker room all the young guys going through this for the first time will look to as a shoulder to lean on.
“Obviously, this early in camp, there isn’t much to tell them right now”, added Schultz. “It’s just training camp, normal practices for now. However, if there’s one thing to say, it’s just do your best and show the coaches what you can do. Unfortunately, camp only lasts ten days, you never know what’s going to happen so you have to put your best foot forward, work hard, and see what happens.”
It’s hard to believe but preseason hockey will be played in just over 48 hours. Tough decisions loom as 30 players will be competing for jobs this weekend and the Cyclones will have to get that number down to 21 before opening night next Saturday against the Kalamazoo Wings at U.S. Bank Arena.