CINCINNATI, OH – Consistency. That’s been the name of the game for the Cincinnati Cyclones this season. They had none of it for the first few months of the season as they rode a roller coaster of win one, lose one; win two, lose two; win five, lose five and so on.

To say the start to the 2016-2017 campaign was “rough” would be an understatement. At times it appeared no matter what this team did, they almost always came up on the short end of things. They struggled to play .500 hockey. Every time they got over on the good side of that .500 line, they would go down another rough stretch of games and fall right back down the ladder. For whatever reason, they could just not get over the hump.

At the halfway mark of the season, they were a just barely above .500 team with a record of 17-15-4-0, sitting on the outside looking in of the playoff picture in the South Division. As you all know, the division realignment was made after the schedule was released in the summer, so the Cyclones only got five games within their new division. As the Cyclones struggled to get points on their own, and as the teams they were chasing in the south began to pull further and further away, playoffs were slowly becoming just a pipe dream for this Cincinnati team.

The biggest kick in the gut came in the month of January where the Cyclones had just one home game while the other 11 games on the month were all played on the road. In a stretch of ten games, they lost nine of them, going on a 1-9-0 run, which included getting absolutely dismantled by the Missouri Mavericks in a three-game series in Independence while losing their two top scorers in Peter LeBlanc (left the team for personal reasons) and Andrew Yogan (returned to Europe due to contract stipulations) along the way.

It was at that point doubts even started to fill my head that the Cyclones would be in the position we would even be able to mention the word “playoffs”. Thoughts even began to circulate that the Front Office would pull the plug and replace Matt Macdonald behind the bench after that rough stretch. Thankfully, that ended up not being the case.

As the calendar changed to February, so did the team. The injuries stacked up. Arvin Atwal, Eric Knodel, Mark Visentin, and Rob De Fulviis all went down with injuries. For awhile, they essentially had an SPHL team as Frank Misuraca, Justin MacDonald, Joe Manno, and Dylan Nowakowski were all called up from the SPHL in response to the injuries. To rub more salt in the wound, Manno went down with an injury just a couple games after being called up.

Even with all the injuries, almost over night, it’s like a light switch just flipped on and the will to win had lit back up. Nobody in that locker room was happy with where the team was, and they knew they had to turn it around quickly with a depleted roster.

Consistency was finally found. Through a stretch of the last 17 games, the Cyclones have gone 13-4-0 racking up wins against some of the toughest teams in this league (Adirondack, Fort Wayne, Toledo), outscoring their opponents 45-44 in the process. They’ve climbed back up the ladder and are once again back in the playoff hunt as they currently occupy the 4th and final playoff spot in the division with a one point edge on South Carolina, however, the Stingrays have one game in hand.

A big factor with their recent success is they’re getting contributions from everyone, instead of just relying on two-three people. Whether it’s Nowakowski, Jordan Sims, Shawn O’Donnell, Jaynen Rissling, Jonathan Diaby, etc, somebody different is stepping up to answer the bell every night.

Their starting goaltender in Michael Houser gets recalled by the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters? No problem. In comes Joel Rumpel and he has been on an absolute tear as of late. In Rumpel’s last three starts, he’s stopped 124 of 126 shots with a 0.67 goals against average and a whopping 0.984 save percentage. He went over eight periods of hockey without allowing a goal, earning himself “ECHL Goaltender of the Week” honors for the week of February 27th-March 5th.

South Division Standings as of March 8th, 2017:
Note: GP = Games Played, GR = Games Remaing, Top four teams qualify for 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs

Team GP GR Record Win % Points Pace Points Max Points Magic/Tragic #
Florida 55 17 38-12-5 73.6% 81 106 115 Magic – 9
Greenville 59 13 33-21-5 60.2% 71 87 97 Magic – 19
Orlando 58 14 29-20-9 57.8% 67 83 95 Magic – 23
Cincinnati 60 12 31-25-4 55% 66 79 90 Tragic – 25
South Carolina 59 13 31-25-3 55.1% 65 79 91 Magic – 25
Atlanta 56 16 21-27-8 44.6% 50 64 82 Tragic – 16
Norfolk 57 15 21-32-4 40.4% 46 58 76 Tragic – 10

As stated earlier, South Carolina’s one game in hand makes the difference right now, giving them the upper hand in the magic/tragic number situation. For now. The Cyclones will close the season out on April 7th-8th with trips to visit the Stingrays and Greenville Swamp Rabbits. Safe to say, this could go down to the wire and those two games could very well dictate the final couple playoff slots.

Although they’ve been hot lately, the work is far from over. With a month left in the season, the plan is as simple and and as cliche as ever. Just. Win. It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you find a way to get the job done, and the Cyclones have a lofty task ahead of them down the final stretch.

It’s no secret the Cyclones are a different team at U.S. Bank Arena than they are away from home.

Home Record: 21-8-4, 0.697 Win %
Away Record: 10-17-0, 0.370 Win %

With 12 games left in the campaign, nine of them will be played on the road. It begins this weekend with a five-game trip out west with two games in Idaho on Friday and Saturday and three more in Alaska next week. It goes without saying, but this trip out west will say a lot about whether this team is for real about their playoff hopes or if they’re just yanking our chains with hope.

Cincinnati’s remaining 2016-2017 schedule:

March 10th – @ Idaho (33-18-5-2)
March 11th – @ Idaho (33-18-5-2)
March 15th – @ Alaska (28-20-2-6)
March 17th – @ Alaska (28-20-2-6)
March 18th – @ Alaska (28-20-2-6)
March 25th – @ Fort Wayne (35-15-5-2)
March 29th – VS Brampton (32-18-3-4)
March 31st – VS Fort Wayne (35-15-5-2)
April 1st – VS Toledo (41-13-2-1)
April 2nd – @ Indy (15-37-3-2)
April 7th – @ Greenville (33-21-4-1)
April 8th – @ South Carolina (31-25-2-1)

It’s a very tough road ahead. If this team has their sights set on still playing hockey in mid April, it’s do or die time now, and we’ll see what exactly this team is made of.

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