In the midst of a five game road stand (the longest road trip of the regular season for Cincinnati), the Cincinnati Cyclones (25-22-5) will visit the Amway Center in Downtown Orlando on tonight to take on the Orlando Solar Bears (26-20-6). This will be the Cyclones first visit to Orlando since they successfully ended the Solar Bears season in a six-game 1st Round series in last year’s Kelly Cup Playoffs. It was a matchup to remember in which Cincinnati jumped out to a 3-0 series lead, but the Solar Bears battled back to force Game 6 in Orlando, where Wade Megan scored the game-winning and series-clinching goal in the final five minutes of regulation to send the Cyclones onto Round 2 en route to an Eastern Conference Championship and a Kelly Cup Finals appearance.
Cincinnati is coming off a huge North Division bout in Evansville last Saturday where the Cyclones topped the struggling IceMen 4-2, picking up two humongous points in the standings. It also saw the end of a very impressive defensive showcase where the ‘Clones were able to hold their opponents to under 30 shots for 11 straight games. Despite losing, Evansville outshot Cincinnati 39-29 to end the Cyclones defensive streak. As a result, the Cyclones now sit in a 3rd Place deadlock with Kalamazoo at 55 points a piece, with Indy and Wheeling nipping at their heels trying to sneak their way into a playoff spot. Cincy has one game in hand on K-Zoo and two in hand on Indy, but every point matters at this stage in the season and the Cyclones need to start taking advantage.
The Solar Bears on the other hand, find themselves on the outside looking in as they sit in 6th place in the East Division, five points out of a playoff spot. One of their biggest struggles has been on home ice, where the Cyclones and Solar Bears will meet three teams over the course of the next six days. In their past eight home games, Orlando has only won two of them and is 11-11-3 overall at home. This includes an absolute gong show last Saturday against Gwinnett. If I did my math correctly, which is a big if, the Gladiators and Solar Bears totaled for 144 penalty minutes and seven players received ejections, including Orlando goaltender, Garrett Sparks.
As far as the season series goes, these teams haven’t met since November. The Solar Bears came into downtown Cincinnati for a pair of games, including a Wednesday morning matinee. Unfortunately, the Cyclones were unable to secure a win and fell to the Solar Bears by scores of 4-3 and 5-3. All-time, over the course of this 3-year ECHL rivalry, the Cyclones and Solar Bears have split 12 games, both with 6-6-0 records against each other. The season series will conclude over the next two weeks as the Cyclones’ next 4 of 5 games are all against Orlando. The only oddball being tomorrow night in Fort Myers, Florida against the Florida Everblades.
The Solar Bears also acquired goaltender Joe Howe from Rapid City earlier this week. Remember that name? You should. Howe was a big piece of the Cyclones’ regular season success last season, saving the day, when both goaltenders Rob Madore and Scott Darling recieved call-ups. He was also with Cincinnati at the beginning of this season but was unfortunately cut in Training Camp to make room for affiliated players. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that reunion be shortened as the AHL’s Albany Devils returned goaltender Maxime Clermont to Orlando yesterday.
Your players to watch tonight:
Cincinnati: F Branden Gracel (12 G, 15 A) for 27 points and is a +5. He has scored in back-to-back games as well heading into tonight’s contest.
Orlando: F Johnny McInnis (12 G, 22 A) for 34 points and is a +4. He has points in five of his last six games.
We drop the puck from Orlando’s Amway Center tonight at 7:00p.m. EST in the first of a four game swing in the Sunshine state. Follow me on Twitter (@SinBinCyclones) for updates all night long!