Cyclones Report: Q&A with Dakota Johnson

Mark Visentin has one of the best Milwaukee Admirals goaltending masks in recent years. He has only had the chance to use it once in-game with the Admirals in the AHL this season. (Photo Credit: Steve Comer)

It’s been far too long since we have checked in on our pals the Cincinnati Cyclones. The Milwaukee Admirals ECHL affiliate has had a rather turbulent season as far as the ups-and-downs go. What is promising right now is that they appear to have really come together as a team at the right time of the season. The Cyclones are currently storming through the ECHL as the regular season is coming closer and closer to its end.

The Cyclones are currently at the end of a five-game road trip which started in Idaho, climbed up to the splendiferous charms of Alaska, and are now en route to play in Indiana before returning to home ice next week Wednesday. They played three consecutive games against the Alaskan Aces and, mercifully, don’t have a game again until Saturday night.

As rough as I’m sure those Alaska games were to follow along to for Cincinnati fans there might be a part of them that wanted that to continue. The Cyclones swept the Aces for three wins in four days at the Sullivan Arena to push their current run of form up to 9-2-0-0 in their last 11 games.

To get an even better sense for how the Cyclones are doing as their season screams towards the ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs we reached out to Dakota Johnson of Sin Bin Cyclones to get the scoop on the Admirals ECHL affiliate. Here is our recent chat.

~Q&A with Dakota Johnson of Sin Bin Cyclones~

Admirals Roundtable. It has been a very up and down sort of season for the Cincinnati Cyclones. Lately, things look like they are finally starting to click. How’s this season been going and what’s worked so well lately?

Dakota Johnson. To say the start to the season was rough would be an understatement. Consistency was their downfall out of the gate. They would win one, lose one; win two, lose two; win five, lose five. There was just no level of consistency at all. For the first few months, well into January, they struggled to find ways to win to the point they couldn’t buy a win.

In early February, they were down and out. They trailed South Carolina by like 10 points for that final playoff spot in the South Division and playoffs began to look like a pipe dream. On February 1st, after getting just flat out beat by a pretty bad Rapid City team, things just clicked almost overnight. Guys started buying into Matt MacDonald’s systems and began playing for each other again. They knew what task was at hand and since then, they’ve gone 17-5-0 and now sit just one point back of Greenville for second place. The job is far from over to secure a playoff spot. It’s as cliche as ever, but they’ve just got to keep doing what they’re doing.

AR. As grinding as our three-in-three games can be would you care to talk me through the joys of playing games in Alaska like the Cyclones just did? It was shades of the midnight hour 2014 Kelly Cup Finals all over again!

DJ. When the ECHL released the schedule last April, these Alaska games were what I was looking forward to most for that very reason. The morning of the first game when I woke up, it felt like I had gone back in time to 2014 again. Except this time, I knew what I was getting myself into with the 11:15pm starts on the East Coast and made sure to stock up on Mountain Dew so I could stay up past 2am.

It definitely hurt a bit seeing that 2014 Championship banner hanging up in the Aces building. It was a little on the personal side for me because the Aces won the cup in Cincinnati on June 9th, 2014. June 9th also just happens to be my birthday. The Cyclones went in there on Alaska’s big Olympic sized sheet of ice and swept by winning all three games. As you’ve probably heard by now, the Aces are ceasing operations at the end of the season. That was definitely some poetic justice going into Alaska’s building for the first time since that 2014 series and sweeping the mini-series.

AR. It may not be the deepest that the Admirals roster has ever been in recent years. Their lone names down there include: Jonathan Diaby, Jaynen Rissling, and Mark Visentin. We’ve also had the opportunity to see the grinder Shawn O’Donnell. How have those guys been for Cincinnati?

DJ. Shawn O’Donnell has pretty much carried this team for the last several weeks since the departures of Peter LeBlanc and Andrew Yogan, who were our top two point scorers at the time. He’s the only skater on the roster that has seen a significant amount of time in the AHL. O’Donnell has 37 points in 40 games with us and has been a big part of the Cyclones turnaround. He’s the type of player you build teams around, I’d imagine re-signing O’Donnell will be one of Matt MacDonald’s priorities over the off-season.

Mark Visentin has had a bit of a rocky year. He’s battled injuries and has been off and on injured reserve most of the season. It’s been a mixed bag with Visentin, he’s had nights where the puck has stuck to him like velcro and some nights where the puck somehow finds a way past him. He did win Goaltender of the Week honors back in January, and despite all the injuries, he’s had a good head on his shoulders and has been a team-first guy. There’s a lot of good he can bring, just keeping him healthy has been the hurdle.

This has certainly been the most confident Jonathan Diaby I’ve seen in awhile. This is the biggest offensive output he’s put up in his professional career with 11 points in 26 ECHL contests. He’s still got some issues with his defensive game that he needs to tighten up on. There’s been one or two times he’s gotten caught puck watching and lost track of his defenseman that’s sneaking back door who ends up scoring but fortunately, it’s a much rarer occurrence than it has been in years past.

It’s been a career year for Jaynen Rissling in pretty much every category. As you guys in Milwaukee know, the first couple years for him were rough because like Visentin, he struggled to stay healthy. Last year, he only played 10 games then missed the rest of the season injured. This year has been different. He’s played in 59 of the 65 games the Cyclones have played. He’s put up a career high 27 points and is the type of player who can do it all. You need him to play forward, he’ll play forward. You need him to play defense, he’ll play defense. Need him to quarterback a power play or kill a penalty, he’ll do that. You need him to rough it up and drop the gloves, he’ll do that too.

AR. For players such as Visentin and Rissling they become free agents at the end of this season. Where do you see their future going from the Cyclones after 2016-17 ends?

DJ. It’s a tough call with Visentin. There is certainly talent there but he has to have one good healthy season. I don’t think he’ll have trouble finding work but I don’t see him getting an AHL contract next season. I see him being an ECHL contracted goalie next season so he can reinvent his career a bit and prove he can stay healthy to earn his way back to being a full-time AHL goaltender. Maybe it’s with Cincinnati, maybe it’s with somebody else but I think he’ll be in the ECHL next season.

As for Rissling, I firmly believe he will be in Cincinnati next season on an ECHL contract. Our coaching staff really like him. He’s a leader in our locker room and is somebody the guys look up to. He serves as an alternate captain. Is he still AHL talent destined for the NHL? No. But he’s a perfect fit at the ECHL level. I will legitimately be shocked if he doesn’t go the route of Zach Budish and signs with Cincinnati after not renewing with Milwaukee/Nashville.

AR. Has Diaby done enough in extended playing time in Cincinnati this season to make a case for playing full-time in the AHL next season?

DJ. That’s a tough question. I will say Diaby is in a much better place now than he was last season when he was here. I’ve seen some significant improvement in his game and I’m sure starting the season in Milwaukee and being up there for the better part of the season in the AHL had a lot to do with it. However, inconsistency still bites him. One night, he’s one of the Cyclones best defensemen out there and the next night not so much.

I don’t think he’s full-time AHL ready. Yet. I think he needs a little bit more seasoning in Cincinnati. I think next year the Admirals need to start him in Cincinnati, have him stay there for the first two months or so of the season, then bring him back up to Milwaukee and go from there.

AR. For the life of me – can you explain the contract situation for Andrew Yogan? He could be such a huge part of the Cyclones right now but is back where his season started in Italy with HC Bolzano.

DJ. There was some language in his initial contract with HC Bolzano that stated he needed to finish the season in Bolzano or else the rights to his International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) card would belong to Bolzano for the next five seasons. What that means is he would not be able to play for any IIHF credited team in Europe except for Bolzano and would not be able to take part in any IIHF sanctioned events during that time period.

This would’ve affected him here as well. Because he started the season in Bolzano, he could not accept any AHL call-ups. He was not allowed to sign any AHL PTO’s. If an AHL team wanted him, they would have to sign him to an SPC straight up. So, had he finished the season here and continued to play here, he wouldn’t be able to accept an AHL call-ups for that five-year period.

He didn’t particularly like it in Bolzano, which is why he came back to Cincinnati in the first place. But for the betterment of his career, he made the conscious decision to return to Bolzano and finish out the contract. When he left, Bolzano only had four games left in their season but he couldn’t come back to the Cyclones because Bolzano’s season went past the ECHL’s deadline for players to return from Europe. So, Yogan’s season is over and his summer is already underway.

Will he come back to Cincinnati next season? I like to think he will because he was a big part of our organization and a big part of our locker room that has been hugely missed these last couple months.

AR. There are of course several names that Admirals fans might be unaware of related to the Cyclones. A player such as Jordan Sims comes to mind as someone who has put together a really nice season. Who have been some of the nice surprises on this year’s group?

DJ. Sims has without a doubt been this team’s unsung hero. This has been a breakout year for him. He has kind of taken the long road around and started his career in the SPHL, then got his shot in the ECHL, and even got a look in the AHL last year. He really stepped up and led the way at a time where the Clones were just decimated by injuries. He’s got 47 points in 57 games and he is one of the least talked about players by Cyclones fans when he should absolutely be one of the most.

Another pleasant surprise would be Saverio “Sam” Posa. He is one of our more stable defensemen. He doesn’t put up a ton of points, he’s only put up eight points this year but he’s a stay-at-home defensemen that does his job.

A third name that comes to mind would be one of our SPHL call-ups when the injuries stacked up in Dylan Nowakowski. He was in training camp with the Cyclones but unfortunately had to be let go due to numbers from Milwaukee. Our coaching staff loved him and brought him back. He is one of the hardest working players on this team. He’s a smaller guy but has the speed and offensive skill to compensate. I firmly believe he’ll be in Cincinnati on a full time ECHL deal next year.

AR. It’s shocking to think that this season is nearly entering playoff mode. It felt like it wasn’t that long ago when I was watching the Cyclones invitees to Admirals Training Camp work at the MSOE Kern Center! That said, the Cyclones have worked themselves into a nice enough spot. Can this group contend for a Kelly Cup this season or will the Allen Americans win for the third consecutive time?

DJ. I almost don’t want to answer that question simply because superstition. But if you want to get technical, the Cyclones playoffs began in February and they’ve done a hell of a job so far. If they’re able to get into the playoffs, once they’re in, anything is possible. They’ve proved time and time again during this stretch recently that they are not a team you can take lightly as they’ve beaten Idaho, Toledo, and Fort Wayne who are some of the best teams in this league. I’m confident they can hang with any team in this league.

As for Allen, I’m going to be honest, I’m really sick of them winning. But now that I’ve said that, they probably will win a third straight Kelly Cup.

Cheers to Dakota Johnson of Sin Bin Cyclones for taking the time to fill us in on the latest out of the Milwaukee Admirals’ ECHL affiliate. Hopefully both the Admirals and Cyclones are getting hot at the right time! You can follow along with Dakota’s work on The Sin Bin where he is an associate editor of the ECHL. For great in-game updates on the Cincinnati Cyclones I highly recommend giving him a follow @SinBinCyclones on Twitter.

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

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