Friday, May 29, 2009

Stingrays up 3 games to 1

The South Carolina Stingrays won a decisive 5-0 win over the Alaska Aces tonight to take command of the series 3 games to 1. The early buzz was that the Aces were a titan of a team that could not be stopped. Well, to win it they now have to stretch it out to 7 games, so they're not quite the juggernaut they were rumored to be.

Tonights game saw 91 minutes of penalty time on 29 infractions. Alaska seems have had the meltdown 54 minutes on 16 infractions. A lot of the Stingray penalties were incidental to the initial Aces penalty. In the third period Alaska's Stefanishion got a true goon's hat trick with a 3-fer penalty of a tripping, roughing, and misconduct all on the same whistle. Maybe they can't handle the pressure of not winning easily.

There are two schools of thought on who to root for after being eliminated in the playoffs. Some folks hate the team that eliminates their guys so they root for the oppononents. I understand that and respect it.

I lean the other way. I figure it's better to be beaten by the champions. It also eliminates the frustration of wondering if my guys would have beaten the other guys if they had advanced. And, if the Stingrays win, the Kelly Cup stays in our conference. There's a sub-plot of pride in that.

Finally, I have to say that the Stingrays guys were gentlemen, professional, and sportsmanlike while at USBA. I can't say the same for some of the other teams who came through during the past three years. It's one thing to put on the game face, be all-business, and focus on winning. But being rude and un-cool is not necessary. The Stingrays were none of that.

They were true professionals. Yeah, losing stinks. But if we had to lose, they were an OK team to lose to and I hope they take the Kelly Cup tomorrow night at home so their fans can enjoy the celebration that we know from last year is oh, so sweet.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

And, Congratulations Cyclones

For last nights post-game entry, I was obliged to give appropriate, sportsman-like cudos to the Stingrays on their victory.

But today, I salute the Cyclones: the players, coaches, support staff, and administration on what was still a terrific season. I think we all appreciate this team; we are very lucky.

Let's recap. After winning the Kelly Cup last year, the team was basically gutted. Some players got promoted and others became the high-dollar players on other teams at this level. I don't remember the exact number, but only 6 or 7 returned from last year. With McElroy and Syroczynski injured, only Barret Ehgoetz remained in this final series. So, basically it was a total rebuild.

We all remember the slow start to the season, and the somewhat shaky goaltending. No offense to Lacasse and Gajewsky, they are young and developing. Lacasse really improved and matured quickly this season. We had the revolving door of second goalies for a while, before settling in with Nie.

Despite all the hardships and challenges thrown at this team, they kept coming back. It's amazing that after the slow start they came back to earn a record of 42-26-2-3 for a .604 record - good enough to take the North Division title again.

Then they battled on, winning the division in the playoffs, proving they truly deserved it. They played South Carolina with their heads held high. I'm proud of the work they did and proud to have been a part of it.

Coaches Weber and Stork lead the charge. Somehow, they managed to be adaptable strategists and leaders, pulling the ever-changing and ever-challenged roster together. Somehow, they always got more out of the players than might be expected. I'm reminded of that old saying about the total being better than the sum of the parts. That's what this team did all year.

From the icemaking standpoint, we had a really good year. We had no oddball problems with the Zamboni, which is really good. I've mentioned before how the working life of a Zamboni is so hard because they are always worked at maximum output. The chiller plant held tough all year as well. We had a few rough weeks when one of the hot water boilers went out and we had to resurface with cold water; but besides that everything ran smoothly.

The players from other teams almost always had kind words about the ice, the arena, and the way they are treated in Cincinnati.

All in all, this year was a success. How can it be anything else? There can be only one leaguechampion each year, but this team are champs in our hearts.

Cheers also go out to all the fans. Average attendance this year was 3104 per game - a huge increase of 68% over the 1844 per game in 2006-07. But it was more than just numbers. Cyclones fans know the game, know the team, and are consistently supportive, loud, and dedicated.

The team has earned the support - and the fans have responded by giving it.

Hugs all around! Thanks players! Thanks coaches! Thanks US Bank Arena and Nederlander!

2009-10 is just around the corner. Budget now, buy season tickets. Continue to support Cyclones hockey, please!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Congratulations Stingrays!

South Carolina Stingrays, 2009 ECHL American Conference Champions

I hope you take it all the way to become the Kelly Cup Champs.

There is no shame for the Cyclones in this loss. The Stingrays were simply the better team and they earned the victory. But the Cyclones truly over-achieved this year - a testament to their determination and their leadership.

Coming back and going this far, after being gutted last year - sending the in-demand champion players hither and yon - is truly remarkable. They had such a rough start to the season but still turned it around and won the division again. Then they proved it was not a fluke by winning the division in the playoffs.

The sweep by Carolina somewhat surprises me. But the games, I think, were closer than the outcome reflected. The Cyclones kept getting too far behind to come back.

The buzz from the officials who have worked games with Alaska say they are a mighty juggernaut, probably unstoppable. But I hope the Stingrays go all the way. It always feels better to lose to champs.

Still, I repeat that while of course I am disappointed, I think the Cyclones have a lot to be proud of. I'm happy to be part of the organization. They really do it right.

Here's to next season! Let's Go Cyclones!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Down 3 games to 0 is rough territory...

Game 4, Conference Finals 2009, May 15 at 7:30 at US Bank Arena.

The Cyclones need the fans - The 7th Man - now more than ever! Wear white for S.O.S.: Save Our Season.

Come show your support!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Rough Start, Eh?

Well, from the sounds of it, the Cyclones did that thing where they get too far behind the curve to recover. Three unanswered goals in the third is great, except when you've already given up two streaks of three goals.

Still, it's better than the Cyclones' rout of Elmira in Game one of that Series. We know we can score. The pentalty kill looks great with allowing only 1 of 8 and a power play percentage of 40% is impressive.

They need to dial it in for Monday. Rest a little, relax a little, and tune up a lot.

They can do it. Split the first two, come back and get 2 of 3 here at home, and win it in Charleston.

One game at a time.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Leadership and Coaching

On the eve of the ECHL Amercian Conference finals between the Cyclones and Stingrays, I find myself pondering what will make one team victorious over the other this round. As tough as both teams are, and as evenly matched as both teams are, what will make the difference?

In a word: Leadership.

I think that the coaching will be critical this round for two reasons. The first reason is about strategy. These games will be a chess match, with coaches trying to proactively outwit each other while also reacting to what is thrown at them.

The second is the raw nature of leadership. Which coach will be able to invoke the best in his players - motivating them to play at a level higher than they ever have before? That coach, whoever he is, will be the winning coach.

On the other hand, there will be no shame to the losing coach because I believe both are fine men and accomplished leaders. They would not be where they are if they were not. But one will be better over the next two weeks. His team will be better and will advance to the Kelly Cup Finals.

My faith is in Coach Weber and Coach Stork. They have proven that they can do it. Let's see them do it again!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Repeat Conference Finals: South Carolina Stingrays

The Stingrays fought off a late resurgance by the Brabham Cup winning Florida Everblades Tuesday night to advance and face the Cyclones at the conference finals for the second year in a row. Florida was up 3-0 in Game 5 and the Stingrays came back to win it. In game 6, the Stingrays were up 3-1 when Florida forced OT with two goals in the last 1:31. The Stingrays got the winning goal halfway through the first OT.

The moral of the story is the Cyclones playoff rallying cry: DESIRE. They have it, we've seen that. But so does the opponent. The only question is who has MORE.

The stats on the Everblades/Stingrays game 6 are very interesting. Florida put 46 shots on goal in regulation and only scored the second and third goals on shots after the 40th. The Stingrays, on the other hand, scored their 3 goals in regulation in only 11 shots. That's unbelievable.

Clearly we are playing a team that can score goals on limited shots that also has a hot goaltender. That is a capable enemy. Stingray goalie Jonathon Boutin was the 5th best goalie in 08-09 league stats with a .912 save percentage and a 2.61 goals-against average.

Cyclones goalie Ryan Nie was 18 overall with a .896 and 2.99 in the regular season. But Nie has been on fire in the playoffs with the #1 best goaltender stats of 1.85 goals against and a .925 save percentage. Smokin'!

SC's Boutin and Reimer rank 12th and 11th in playoff stats, with Reading's Teslak coming in #10.

Team stats are a mixed bag. The Cyclones have a 0.727 record and 36 goals-for and 30 goals against. The Stingrays are 0.682 with 45 goals for and 36 against.

Stats Schmats. It all comes down to future performance but it is interesting to look at the numbers. They tell me that this series will be very, very interesting and exciting.

Watch, listen, come to the home games!!! Every living breathing fan will be needed to root the Cyclones on to victory!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Props to the Enquirer...

A story about the next round made the third from the top in the online headlines.

Enquirer 5/5

Interesting tidbit about their travel plans in the article.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Conference Finals, Here We Come!

Being realistic last fall, after seeing the Cyclones win the Kelly Cup and then, logically, losing most of the team, I was content to see them make the playoffs this year. I wouldn't have been disappointed but not upset if they got bumped in the first round; it would have been understandable. Then with the rough start they had, I was just hoping for them to bounce back to a .500 season so fans had at least a 50% chance of seeing a win.

Stupid me! There's an old saying in leadership that you get from your team (crew, shift, squad, etc.) whatever you expect from them. Have low expectations, you'll get low results. Coach Weber and Coach Stork clearly never lowered their expectations for the Cyclones, for we find ourselves again in the Conference Finals for the second year in a row. I know that sometimes I sound like a bootlicker of Chuck Weber's. It's not that at all. I've studied leadership for a long time and I simply recognize that he is an outstanding leader, in the truest sense of the word.

We would not have what we have if here were not. He's also a brilliant strategist. Going from Johnstown in basically a playoff series at the end of the regular season, to Wheeling, to Elmira presented three different styles of hockey to face. This is especially true from Wheeling to Elmira. Weber and Stork had to adjust their strategies and devise systems to defeat two totally different styles. They had to prepare the players to face this challenge, give them to tools to accomplish it, and "sell" it to them in a way that they actually used the systems taught.

Obviously, it worked.

I expected the Elmira series to go 5 or 6 games, just because it is so hard to run with a physical team. The Cyclones showed they can play the physical game and give it right back to them - and keep their skill up & score goals. A sweep, ending in a shutout. Awesome.

I took some pot-shots at Mike Sgroi in previous posts. I should say now that it is over and I have to give respect to the Elmira Jackals team. They made it as far as they did; they are doing something I only dreamed of doing as a youth hockey player. Minor league players are truly in it for "love of the game" because they sure don't get paid the big bucks. They played a style that I do not like and I hope never comes to Cincinnati; but still they played professional hockey in a successful regular season and through the second round of the playoffs.

Hats-off to Elmira, they were a worthy adversary. But now, let them be gone. They taught the Cyclones some lessons in toughness and patience in the series. This boosts the confidence of the Cyclones that they can go deep and it reaffirms their faith in their leadership (including on-ice leaders like Ehgoetz).

Let the Cyclones take that education all the way down the stretch!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Coach Weber's Game 4 Insight

If you are not following the official Cyclones twitter, you need to.

For those who are not yet following, here is what you just missed:

Coach Weber says the first 10 minutes will decide tonights game. Elmira will come out flying and as long as the Cyclones withstand the rush, the 'Clones will have a shot at winning.

That's good stuff. As I mentioned in the last post, elimination games are always the hardest to win. It will be huge if the Cyclones can pull off the sweep. On the other hand, if they don't I'm still not worried. But taking this series in 4 is a tremendous confidence-builder for the next round and it also earns the club a few extra days of rest.

Go now, sign up for the real Cyclones twitter from John "The Hammer" Hamel and while you're at it, follow my twitter at