Wednesday night didn’t go the Cyclones way. Time to forget that even happened and focus on what’s at stake as probably the biggest weekend of the season will get underway Friday night between the Cincinnati Cyclones (27-28-8) and Evansville IceMen (14-41-8) in Downtown Cincinnati.
Before we get to Friday’s tilt, we’ll recap Wednesday night’s affair against the South Carolina Stingrays in case you were not with us. Remember when we talked about the back-and-forth game down in Charleston last Saturday? Wednesday was pretty much the exact same deal. Jack Downing got the Cyclones going a little over eight minutes into the 1st period. David Pacan won the faceoff, getting the puck cleanly right to Downing who was able to beat Jeff Jakaitis right over the left shoulder to make it 1-0 Cincinnati. It wouldn’t take long for South Carolina to answer back as some horrendous puck luck victimized the Cyclones. Lee Moffie blasted a shot that went wide, it bounced off the end boards right to Joe Devin who tucked it in before Rob Madore even realized where the puck was.
The 2nd period would begin to tilt Cincinnati’s way a bit as just three minutes in, the rookie forward out of University of Guelph, Nick Huard from the sharpest of angles, surprised Jakaitis with the shot and beat him through the wickets to make it 2-1 Cincinnati. It was one Jakaitis wanted back because as soon as it went in, Jakaitis immediately looked up to the U.S. Bank Arena rafters in complete disbelief.
Things would really calm down from there on into the 3rd Period. Cincy would grab one of the worst leads in hockey as MacKenzie Weegar fired a shot from the blue line, Jakaitis made the initial save, it bounced right to Joe Basaraba who cashed in to make it 3-1 Cincinnati. Then, as if on cue, the South Carolina comeback train left its station. It started at about the 11 minute mark of the 3rd, Derek DeBlois pick-pocketed a Cincinnati defenseman and went in on a shorthanded breakaway, and beat Madore over the glove to pull the Stingrays within one. In the final minutes of regulation, Jakaitis was sent to the bench for the extra attacker, the Cyclones were unable to clear the zone. The Stingrays got five or six good looks at the net before Rob Bellamy finally tapped home the equalizer.
For the second straight game, this matchup was going to overtime. But, 65 minutes wouldn’t be enough as we would need one of those godforsaken shootouts…again. Cincinnati would fall to 1-7 in shootouts (which is the worst shootout record in the entire ECHL). South Carolina would edge Cincy 3-2 in an 8-round shootout as Wayne Simpson, Andrew Rowe, and Patrick Gaul struck for the Stingrays; Jack Downing and Joe Basaraba for the Cyclones. What makes it an even tougher pill to swallow is Stephan Vigier nearly won it for Cincinnati. The puck squeezed through Jakaitis but rolled to the post instead of crossing the line. Patrick Gaul immediately stepped up afterwards and scored the game-winner marking Cincinnati’s 9th loss in their past 10 games and increasing South Carolina’s historic win streak to 22.
As the man they dub SinBinMavs on Twitter would say, the Stingrays are not human. They’re kind of like hockey’s versions of the Monstars from the movie, Space Jam. Unfortunately, not even “Michael’s Secret Stuff”, Michael Jordan, or Bill Murray could save the Cyclones on this one. But, tonight is the chance to turn it all around. As stated earlier, this could be the weekend that decides Cincinnati’s postseason fate. We’ve got six monumental divisional points on the line; Friday night against Evansvillle, Saturday against Fort Wayne, then the most important one of the weekend, Sunday against Wheeling. The Cyclones are currently in a dog fight with the Nailers and Indy Fuel for that final playoff spot in the North Division. Cincy is tied at 62 points with Wheeling and is just one point ahead of Indy.
But, let’s focus one game at a time. First up: The Evansville IceMen. This is a team that has continuously struggled and it never seems to get any better, only seemingly worse. The IceMen currently riding a six game losing streak, making this the perfect time for Cincinnati to get their mojo back a little bit and get out of this slump they’re currently in. This season series is the dictionary definition of domination. Of the 9 games these two clubs have hooked up for, Cincinnati is 8-1-0 against Evansville. These are two points the Cyclones absolutely cannot afford to give up when they’ve had so much success against Evansville. The IceMen are a team you can’t take for granted though. Despite being long gone eliminated from the playoff race, this Evansville team still goes in night after night and puts up a fight. Their goal is to play the role of spoiler and try to prevent the Cyclones from making the playoffs. Hopefully, that will not be the case and Cincinnati can stave off the IceMen.
Now onto the bigger news of the week. That was the acquisition of forward, Jack Combs, who the Cyclones claimed off waivers prior to Wednesday’s contest. This is without a doubt, Cincinnati’s biggest player move of the season. If there was a piece to the puzzle that puts the Cyclones over the top and onto a postseason berth, it’s going to be Combs. In 40 ECHL games this season between Stockton and Allen, Combs has 27 goals and 42 assists for 69 points. He also skated in 8 games for the Cyclones last season and tallied for 9 goals and 4 assists for 13 points. Apparently, the ECHL was made to serve certain fans’ every request. If you been following on this sage, fans of Combs’ previous teams are in uproar they didn’t get their way about Combs not returning to Allen. It has gone so far that they are trolling his personal Twitter account. Hell, they’ve even trolled mine as well. If you’re a Cincinnati fan, it’s best to just ignore this nonsense. No matter what they say, Combs is reporting to Cincinnati and is expected to debut this weekend.
We drop the puck Friday night from U.S. Bank Arena at 7:35p.m EST. Join the fun on Twitter by following me @SinBinCyclones for updates all night long.