Got butterflies in your stomach yet? You should, because hockey season is just around the corner. As the final month of the off-season winds down, all the preparation and time committed by Coaches Matt Macdonald and Cam Keith to bring a winning hockey team back to Cincinnati over the lengthy summer will finally go into effect.
With just over four weeks until Training Camp is set to begin on October 2nd, from everyone I’ve talked to within the Cyclones organization, everyone is of the same mindset. It’s a simple six-word phrase: “We will not repeat last season”. For a team that is regularly in the playoffs, and normally in the conversation for a Championship, was in for a change, on the outside looking in; which was definitely hard to stomach for Cyclones fans.
And I’ll be honest, as a writer, it was hard to write about as well. I pride myself on giving honest coverage of this team, not pretending like things are alright… when in fact, it’s not, and most importantly, giving the fans real talk. It was definitely hard for me at times with how things would wind up going for the Cyclones last season.
However, things are finally beginning to look up for the Cyclones. What many fans haven’t understood, and it’s what I’ve been preaching since the beginning, last season was a Ben Simon team, under Matt Macdonald’s system, which did not go so well. Simon left the team for the AHL in August, so most of the team was signed under the impression that he’d be the Head Coach. Have you noticed how not one of the players signed so far were brought in by Simon? They’ve all been Macdonald’s recruitments. It’s simply time to move on from the Joe Basaraba, Rob Madore, etc clan and bring in a fresh, new group, and that’s exactly what has happened.
Be prepared for a brand new Cincinnati Cyclones team this fall. Which, in this case, is a very good thing. As of now, only four guys from last season are coming back, which is among the fewest in the entire ECHL. Even Evansville, who won 15 games last season, has more returning players. For the fans who think this season will be a disaster with the lack of returning players, you couldn’t be more wrong. Cleaning house was desperately needed and can do absolute wonders.
The four returning to Cincinnati are the likes of forwards Nick Huard, Jack Downing, Branden Gracel, and Christiaan Minella. As far as returning players go, the ones that needed to come back, are doing so. The rest aren’t and have moved on, and we need to do the same. Of those four, Downing, Huard, and Gracel were the three who stood out the most last season and added that spark that was desperately missing. Minella is that tough body that every team needs. He hits all night and isn’t afraid to stand up to somebody. To get my overall thoughts on each individual player, you can find that in previous articles when they were announced.
In addition, there are four players coming to Cincinnati, who all bring a ton of AHL/ECHL experience to the table. Those would include: forward Bobby Hughes (Previously with Brampton); D-man Mike Ratchuk (Previously with Wheeling); D-man Cody Carlson (Returning to North America after a season in Germany; Last ECHL Team was Utah in 12-13); and finally goaltender Neil Conway (Previously with Toledo). The knowledge, experience, and proven success between those four players is insane. The most notable of the four is Neil Conway, who was a staple in the Toledo Walleye’s Eastern Conference Final run last Spring.
The Veterans of the group include Downing, Ratchuk, and Hughes. That’s three of the allowed four Vets. To be considered a vet, you have to appear in at least 260 professional games. Of course, we can’t forget about the rookies. Those would be: D-man Ryan Misiak, who accumulated over 100 points through four seasons at Mercyhurst University; D-man Steve Weinstein, who was Bentley University’s top scoring defenseman in all four seasons he was there; and forward/defenseman Ben Schimdt. Schmidt primarily plays defense but can do a bit of both. Reminds you of Dan Eves doesn’t it?
When you think about, this is a pretty damn good looking group, and this isn’t even including the people who get sent down from Milwaukee. This group has speed, skill, experience, toughness, and a mix of things that were lacking last season. Most importantly, you’re finally seeing a true Matt Macdonald team, which was not the case last season. I’ve talked to numerous fans from all over the league. When I ask them “Out of which teams that did poorly last season, do you think will have successful turn around seasons?”. The first teams that come out of their mouths: “Cincinnati, Indy, Missouri, and Brampton”. A few have even said they expect Cincinnati and Fort Wayne to compete for the top spot in the Midwest Division with the moves they have made over the off-season.
Now onto those who have moved on from Cincinnati. Where are they now?
1. Stephan Vigier has gone up I-75 to sign in Toledo.
2. Michael Quinn has gone overseas to play in Europe.
3. Chris Reed has retired.
4. Josh Shalla is rumored to be following Vigier to Toledo.
5. Michael Neal is rumored to have signed in the ECHL. As to which team it is has yet to be known.
6. Tony Turgeon has signed in Manchester, where a lot of Former Cyclones who were contracted by the Florida Panthers could land due to an “unofficial affiliation” between the Monarchs and Panthers.
There is certainly more to come, as “Player Signing Wednesday” is tomorrow! I’ve seen a couple names of the unannounced players. I’m convinced this year’s team will certainly be a hell of a lot better. Cyclones fans are in good hands right now.