It has been awhile since scanning the Milwaukee Admirals ECHL affiliate the Cincinnati Cyclones. Good news, they have followed in the Admirals footsteps in clinching a playoff spot a year removed from missing out of playoff hockey.
Tonight and tomorrow night the Cyclones play on the road against the Quad City Mallards where they will be finishing off their regular season. The Cyclones are currently in second place of the Midwest Division and are seventh place in the Western Conference standings. The team trailing them in the conference at the moment? You guess it: the Mallards who they’ll be playing these last two-games. With the Tulsa Oilers still in pursuit of the Mallards it adds a heightened element to the Cyclones weekend.
To get more information on just how well the Cyclones have been doing, and hear an update on how a few familiar names have been performing in the ECHL, I reached out to Dakota Johnson of Sin Bin Cyclones for a Q&A. Here is what he had to say regarding the Cyclones season to date.
~Q&A with Sin Bin Cyclones~
Admirals Roundtable: The Cincinnati Cyclones joined the family of the Nashville Predators and Milwaukee Admirals by making the playoffs this season. What’s been the story of the Cyclones turn-around from a season ago?
Sin Bin Cyclones: I think the biggest thing that’s made a difference has been with the guy behind the bench. Last season, when the Cyclones missed the playoffs, Matt MacDonald pretty much inherited the roster, playing his system with Ben Simon‘s guys after Simon took an Assistant Coaching role in the AHL in August prior to the 2014-2015 season. This season, MacDonald had a full off-season to piece together the team he wanted. These are his guys under his system, and I think that’s made a difference between last season’s and this season’s team.
AR: Zach Budish really only had his first full healthy season playing hockey last season and looked good in both the AHL and ECHL. This season for the Cyclones he’s looked to have really taken a leap forward. How has he improved this season?
SBC: Budish has been one of our biggest weapons this season. He was the recipient of this year’s “Sin Bin Award” for “Best Offensive Player”. It’s amazing to see how far he’s come since he first came to us back in 2013-2014 for that Kelly Cup Finals run. 2nd on the team in points with 55 in 67 games. Hard to complain about that kind of a season. Selfishly, I’d like him to come back to us again next season, but he more than deserves another AHL shot in 2016-2017.
AR: Garrett Noonan is tied for third among ECHL defensemen for scoring this season. He hasn’t quite had the opportunity to play in the AHL here in Milwaukee because of the numbers stacked on top of him. How has his all-around play been for the Cyclones and would you say he’s set to make an AHL leap next season similar to that of Taylor Aronson back in 2013-14?
SBC: Absolutely. Leads all defensemen on the team with 41 points in 53 games. Leads the entire team in the assists category with 33. The numbers-game situation was unfortunate, because back in September, I wasn’t even expecting Noonan to even be sent down to us. He’s one of those players where the fact that he is in ECHL and not the AHL just boggles my mind. I really hope he’s able to get a stable roster spot in Milwaukee next year. I firmly believe he’s made his mark at the ‘AA’ level, and he’s ready to move up.
AR: The Admirals haven’t really had the need for their third goaltender who is waiting in the wings at the ECHL level in Cincinnati. This is pretty much the second straight season that has happened with both Rob Madore (2014-15) and Brandon Whitney (2015-16) only going up to watch a game from the bench once or twice. What are you seeing from Whitney and do you feel he has improved at all over the course of the season?
SBC: Whitney has had his fair share of bright and dark spots this season. He hasn’t seen a ton of action since Andy Iles was claimed off waivers back in January, only appearing in a handful of games. He definitely has some strengths. The obvious one being his size. But, his struggles have outweighed the good unfortunately. Rebound control has been his worst nightmare. I can safely say a good 80% of the goals he’s given up, have come off of humongous rebounds he left out that could’ve been prevented if he had been able to hold onto it. Sitting all this time hasn’t done him much justice either. When he had to relieve Iles in the 3rd period of a game in Indy a couple weeks ago, I noticed his reaction timing to shots was really slow, and he just seemed to be real stiff overall in goal. I know he’s under contract through the end of 16-17, so he’ll most likely be in Cincinnati again next season. I’m very interested to see how he’s able to work on things over the off-season and see if he comes back next season with the kinks worked out.
AR: Jonathan Diaby was the poster boy for the new Milwaukee Admirals uniforms and logos this summer. He’s the man pictured in The Hockey News 50 Best Sweaters in Hockey History. For all the visual appeal he’s had from that he’s hardly seen the light of day in Milwaukee this season. What are you seeing of him in Cincinnati and is he improving as the season progresses?
SBC: Similar to Whitney, he’s had a few bright spots, but the bad has outweighed the good, unfortunately. He’s starting to learn that he can use his size to his advantage. He’s picked up his physical play a bit, even scored his first pro goal in Quad City a month or so ago. He has really struggled lately though. It’s come by just not making smart decisions on the ice. He’s been prone to turning the puck over a number of times in his own zone, a lot of times ending up in the opponent scoring. In his case, he just needs to make smarter decisions on the ice, and he’d be a high quality defensemen. What I said for Whitney can be said here again. I’d like to see Diaby come back to Cincinnati next season after working over the off-season and see what he’s improved upon.
AR: What have been some of the surprising storylines that have taken place in Cincinnati this season?
SBC: The biggest surprising storyline in Cincinnati has been the play of goaltender Andy Iles. Obviously, the Columbus Blue Jackets have had some injury troubles with goalies, so the Cyclones have been without the services of Brad Thiessen for a majority of the regular season. Iles was claimed off waivers in January and has just taken that #1 spot in goal and ran with it. He’s bounced around and struggled a bit with other ECHL teams. For him to come to Cincinnati, got named ECHL Goaltender of the Month for February, and be able to find his game has been huge for us. I can safely say if the Cyclones had never found Iles, they would not be playing playoff hockey next weekend.
AR: Outside of the crop of players that Admirals fans have come to know over time who are some of the players in the Cyclones lineup you feel could contribute nicely at the AHL level?
SBC: The obvious answer would be Andrew Yogan, who’s been back and forth between Cincinnati and a few AHL cities on PTO’s this season. I know ‘older guys’ aren’t necessarily favored in the AHL but I think guys like Jack Downing and Tommy Mele could do something to contribute offensively up there. Colin Mulvey is another guy who I think could hang around in the A.
AR: The ECHL’s regular season is nearly over. How do you see the Cyclones doing in the 2016 Kelly Cup Playoffs?
SBC: I really would prefer not to jinx it, but the Cyclones have been their own worst enemy lately and self inflicting mistakes have been what costs them games. This weekend in Quad City is their last chance to gain some last minute momentum heading into the postseason. If they can get their heads screwed on straight beforehand, I think they can make some noise. Of course, that’s easy for me to say from upstairs.
Cheers to Dakota Johnson for taking the time to provide an update on some usual suspects here to Milwaukee fans as well as insight on the Cyclones season. You can follow Sin Bin Cyclones on Twitter or at the website right here.
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