Nick Brunker's Blog
Eastern Conference Finals Blog
May 13, 2013 | View Comments
With another series in the books, the Cyclones have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals! They'll meet the Reading Royals in another best-of-seven series. Keep this page bookmarked throughout the series - as I'll have daily updates on the Clones!
UPDATE: 5/13 11:15am
It was a hell of a season...let's start with that. While I think we are all disappointed that the Kelly Cup run fell 7 wins short, the 2012-13 season was one to remember. I'll have a full season recap coming to the blog soon. Stay tuned for that.
While you certainly can't take anything away from the Royals, it's going to be a very interesting Kelly Cup Finals. If Reading can continue to get fortunate bounces, play opportunisitic hockey, and remain solid defensively, they very well may take home the prize. But to be honest, I don't think their luck will continue. My Finals prediction is Stockton in six.
As for the Clones, they have nothing to hang their heads about...they had some exhilarating wins, heartbreaking losses, and a whole lot of excitement in between.
With his assist on Saturday, Mathieu Aubin is just two points away from becoming the club's all-time playoff point leader. Here's to hoping he easily breaks that next spring! He continues to be a great leader and is toward the top of many club record leaderboards.
Speaking of records, Michael Houser has put his name on a bunch of club lists as well...in his first pro postseason, he collected the following:
- Longest Start Streak - 17 games
- 2nd most games played - 17 games
- 2nd most wins - 9
- 2nd most saves - 464
- 2nd most minutes played - 1154
- 3rd goals-against average - 2.24
...not a bad set of numbers at all. He was a major reason the postseason lasted as long as it did for Cincy.
And with that, we close out the Eastern Conference Finals Blog! Thanks to all of YOU for following throughout the playoffs and regular season! You are the reason I do what I do! I'm already looking forward to ramping things back up in the fall for another season! In the meantime, don't be a stranger...soon we'll be announcing the Meijer Concrete Clones schedule...I hope to see you out there! Again, stay tuned for a full season in review blog! THANK YOU FANS!
UPDATE: 5/11 5:30pm
While I think we can all agree Friday night was tough...it gets a whole lot simpler for the Cyclones now...Win or go home.
Spirits are high today despite the loss last night...which has been the story of this team all season long. They never get to high, never get too low. But you can bet the start of Game 5 will look a whole heck of a lot better than 24 hours ago.
One roster change for tonight...Josh Birkholz will be in the lineup for the first time in the series, replacing Mattias Lindstrom. Birkholz adds a dangerous element of speed to the Cyclones offensive contingent, plus has been chomping at the bit to get back out there.
Goaltending wise...it will be the same story, with Michael Houser opposing Riley Gill. As it should be.
Just wrapped up my pre-game conversation with Cyclones Assistant Coach Matt MacDonald...you can get a sneak preview here.
Home ice advantage is pivotal tonight...they need you guys to be here and be loud for Game 5! C'mon down and join us! If you can't be with us in person...catch the action on FM 100 The FAN beginning at 7:15pm! You can also listen online here.
UPDATE: 5/10 6:15pm
We're oh so close to gametime for Game 4!! Gonna be a very important night for both teams with the Royals currently leading the series 2-1.
Get a sneak preview of my pre-game chat with Cyclones Head Coach Jarrod Skalde...it's just been posted!
A couple of quick roster notes for tonight...all on the Royals side: Riley Gill will again be in net after making just 28 saves in Game 3, his least of the series. After the Hershey Bears (Reading's AHL affiliate) was eliminated on Wednesday, they have reassigned defenseman Patrick Wellar to the Royals. He'll wear #6. Dominic Jalbert, Bobby Shea, and Barry Almeida will all be out tonight - which is different from the previous three games. Julien Cayer will play in his first pro playoff game tonight as well, being summoned today. Stanislav Galiev and David Vallorani remain out of the lineup as they have all series long.
The Cyclones will have the same exact lineup as Wednesday night...Michael Houser will make his 16th straight start - tying Jeremy Smith's club record for consecutive starts. And he needs just four saves tonight to take over second on the club's all-time saves list. Big night for him!
We're on the air on FM 100 The FAN and the Cyclones Radio Network TONIGHT at 7:15pm! But we'd love for you to be with us in person! Doors are open!
UPDATE 5/9 2:20pm
For the first time in this series, the better team actually won the game....much like the previous two, the Cyclones dominated the play in regulation (until the final 8 minutes or so). And despite being forced into OT for the 7th time in this playoff year, it was a winning night! In case you missed it, here are the highlights of last night's game from the Cyclones Radio Network!
The teams set a record last night, becoming the first best-of-seven series in the history of the Kelly Cup Playoffs to open with three straight OT games. The Clones have now played in a club-high seven extra session games in the 2013 playoffs - smashing their previous high of four.
Don't look now, but Mike Embach is now second on the club's all time playoff game-winners list...he tied Barrett Ehgoetz, Nick Bootland, and Sam Ftorek with his third as a Cyclone.
Speaking of Embach...he visited with me, as did Josh Shalla after a brief practice today at U.S. Bank Arena...
It has been a remarkable series in terms of the temp and control for Cincinnati...out of the more than 239 minutes of action through three games, the Cyclones have only trailed for 10 minutes and 11 seconds.
And consider this...with 239 minutes played in this series, the Royals have now played the equivalent of six full games in the span of eight days - dating back to last Tuesday for Game 6 of the Eastern Semifinals vs. Florida. And while they have a 2-1 edge in their series with Cincy, they're wearing down. If the Cyclones can keep the tempo and energy up on Friday and Saturday, they could easily take back this series.
I wouldn't expect anything too major from a roster switch on the Cyclones side for Friday...although nothing is official yet. For Reading, though, it could be a toss-up. Goaltender Mark Owuya has been sitting on the bench since Game 3 of the Semifinals - and with Gill having lost in another marathon, it wouldn't shock me to see a goalie switch. The only other possible addition would be Patrick Weller, who was playing in Hershey - which had their season end last night. We'll have updates tomorrow as we get closer to game time.
Home ice advantage is as important as ever...we need you guys to pack the place this weekend!! Tell a buddy, bring 10 friends...just get here for Friday and Saturday games at U.S. Bank Arena!! They'll be $3 Leinenkugel Summer Shandy on Friday and a Kids Eat FREE on Saturday. Let's pack the Bank!!
If you can't be with us in person for some reason, listen LIVE to all the action on FM 100 The FAN (100.3 FM) beginning at 7:15pm!
UPDATE 5/8 5:30pm
Hear a preview of my pregame chat with Cyclones Head Coach Jarrod Skalde...he addresses the keys for tonight, his thoughts on goaltending, and more! Puck drops in 2 hours!! Come on down and join us!
UPDATE: 5/8 12:25pm
Happy Gameday everyone! After two very unlucky games (from the Cyclones perspective), the Clones are finally back home to take the series back at U.S. Bank Arena.
In case you missed it yesterday, here were comments from Head Coach Jarrod Skalde, Garrett Wilson, and Charles-Olivier Roussel discussing the first two games and tonight's third meeting:
Tonight's goaltending match-up is expected to be the same as it has been...Michael Houser vs. Riley Gill. Now let me get on my soapbox for a second: I've seen several comments from fans along the lines of "It's time for a goalie switch...play Foster!...etc." Putting it bluntly...quiet down. While Foster is a tremendous goaltender in his own right, Cincinnati's playoff run has been firmly on Houser's shoulders. He's not being "overworked"...as some fans try to preach. He hasn't "lost a step." He's the guy who has brought the Clones to where they are today. Again, this is not to say that Foster couldn't be just as good...but why make the switch now? After two games that probably should have gone Cincinnati's way, where Houser's goaltending was in NO WAY to blame. Then come the statistics train: Houser is the third best goaltender in the ECHL playoffs with a 2.19 GAA - sitting behind, you guessed it - Reading's duo of Gill and Owuya. This impressive stat coming in addition to the fact Houser has played the most minutes and made the most saves of any goalie in the league. Pesky facts. So please, if you are in the minority of fans who are screaming today because Houser is starting - take a step back, a deep breath, and realize the error in your ways.
Unfortunately, it appears Trevor Lewis will be unavailable again tonight...while he's been one of the most important Cyclones players this postseason - the 2012-13 team has been a "next-man in" group all year long. I'd expect line combos to look very similar to the weekend. Let's hope we can see the Shalla-Pacan-Embach line come alive. Between the three of them, they've got 34 points this postseason.
In terms of gameplanning...as the guys talked about in the video, it would seem that the mindset going forward is to increase traffic at the net. Gill has been solid but tends to give up a lot of rebounds when the Clones have gotten to him early. I would expect to see a greater urgency between the circles and below tonight.
As always, staying out of the box is critical...while the Clones have been tremendous in the PK area (9-10 in the series), the more time they're killing penalties, the less time they are in the offensive end. And as we've seen, if Cincinnati can get out to a 2-0 lead early on - they are very tough to beat.
Keep on stifiling Tifu and Kashirsky...they are two of the biggest weapons on the Royals team and have been relatively quiet in the first two games. While their linemate Evan Barlow has been the producer out of the three, they all can find ways to score at any time. When they go, so too do the Royals. When they don't, neither do the Royals.
Keep Houser's vision in tact...so far in this series, the only goals that have gotten past the Cyclones backstop are when he's had trouble seeing the puck. Houser is very good at moving laterally to adjust when defensive breakdowns happen in front, but at times he's been so heavily screened that it doesn't matter. If the Clones can keep the front of the net clear for Houser to see, he's gonna be a hard goalie to beat.
As always, we'll be on the air with Cyclones Warmup 20 minutes prior to the Opening Face-Off on FM 100 The FAN (100.3 FM) and the Cyclones Radio Network! Listen in tonight starting at 7:15pm! It's time to get back in this series!
UPDATE: 5/5 1:25pm
After a heartbreaker in Game 1, the Cyclones are back and ready to exact their revenge against the Royals today!!
Things will look pretty much the same from both sides, including the goaltenders...the Clones will send Michael Houser to the net while Riley Gill plays again for the Royals after a 50 save performance in Game 1. If the Clones can rack up that many shots with consistency in this series, they are going to be just fine.
Obviously, Evan Barlow will be a point of focus for the Cincinnati defense today...the guy had 2 goals and an assist in the series opener and can be a playmaker as well. I would expect to see the Cyclones throwing the body even more regularly against #23 today.
Just moments ago, I wrapped up my pregame chat with Cyclones Assistant Coach Matt Macdonald...listen to the interview on the Podcast Page!
David Pacan continues to soar for Cincinnati...he added more offense on Friday, extending his point-scoring streak to five games. The rookie leads the Cyclones with 16 points in 13 games.
Hope to have you with us LIVE as we broadcast Game 2 on the Cyclones Radio Network!...pre-game coverage can be heard on FM 100 The FAN (100.3 FM), America One, and here, beginning at 3:45pm!
UPDATE: 5/3 - 11:30am
Happy Gameday everyone!! Tonight the Cyclones will kick off the Eastern Conference Finals in Reading in hopes of doing what they've done in both prior series'...win the first game.
While both of Reading's goaltenders have been great this postseason (and have split time), it will be Riley Gill between the pipes for Game 1...he was first off the ice at their Morning Skate, unofficially signaling that he'll be out there. Gill was tremendous during his regular season stint with the Royals, going 10-3-0-1 with a 1.81 GAA. During these playoffs, he's notched a 5-2 mark with a 1.81 GAA. The scouting report on him is different than Louis Domingue in that he fails to move laterally very well. For a guy that is 6'2, he plays relatively small. Translation: get tons of rubber to the net. Fortunately, that plays right into Cincinnati's wheelhouse - who have posted an average of 33.67 shots per game in these playoffs and elclipsed 35 in three of their semifinals games vs. Gwinnett.
For the Cyclones, it's no surprise - Michael Houser...he has been the steady hand for the Cyclones during his first pro playoff year. "House" leads the ECHL in minutes played and saves along with an impressive 2.03 GAA. If he can play as good as he has in the prior to series', the Clones are going to be just fine.
But make no mistake, this is a Royals team with some offensive weapons...their top line of Yannick Tifu, Nikita Kashirsky, and Evan Barlow are among the best point-getters in these playoffs. However, Tifu and Kashirsky have been known to play undisciplined while Barlow's knock is his commitment level. The Cyclones did a tremendous job shutting down the Gladiators top unit during the semifinals by playing physical and staying aggressive. And after a seven game series, the Royals are worn down.
Although the teams only met three time during the regular season, it is pretty clear that Reading likes to generate offense from the perimeter. They aren't a team who moves through the middle of the ice very often, probably because they've got guys who shy away from body checks. And with the speed they've got on the wings (Tifu and Barlow for example), they have succeeded in doing it. The Cyclones will have to be cognizant of Reading's transition game...which is a major strength for them.
Also similar to the Gladiators...the Royals defensemen do not handle the puck very well. When the Cyclones put heavy pressure on, they got flustered. If they can keep putting the body on and getting in the faces of those rear guards...you can bet Cincinnati will get some turnovers in the offensive end.
Another difference for the Conference Finals...there will be a two referee system. For Game 1, Don Jablonski AND Frederic LeBlanc will be out there with the orange arm bands. Couldn't be more happy about this. Having that second ref will eliminate the normally unseen stuff behind the play. But it's a double-edged sword. Both sides will have to be smarter in what they are doing behind the play.
We'll be on the air tonight at 6:45pm for all the action on the Cyclones Radio Network (FM 100 The FAN, America One, CyclonesHockey.com)...we hope you can join us!!
Unlike the last round, the Conference Finals will assume the normal match-up schedule...with the Royals holding home ice advantage as the top seed. Here's the full schedule of games:
Game 1 at Reading - Friday, May 3 - 7:05pm
Game 2 at Reading - Sunday, May 5 - 4:05pm
Game 3 at Cincinnati - Wednesday, May 8 - 7:30pm
Game 4 at Cincinnati - Friday, May 10 - 7:30pm
Game 5 at Cincinnati - Saturday, May 11 - 7:30pm*
Game 6 at Reading - Monday, May 13 - 7:05pm*
Game 7 at Reading - Tuesday, May 14 - 7:05pm*
(* = if necessary)
As always, we'll have all the action on FM 100 The FAN (100.3 FM) and the Cyclones Radio Network beginning 20 minutes prior to the Opening Face-Off every night! Due to another event at the Sovereign Center on Saturday, the first two games will be a Friday/Sunday split. And for two teams who have played a ton of hockey this playoff year, an extra day of rest will do everyone some good.
After an overnight bus ride to Reading, the Clones hit the ice for Thursday practice in preparation for Game 1...by now there aren't a lot of differenes from practice to practice. It's just a matter of continuing the momentum. After the skate, I caught up with Dan Eves and Garrett Wilson to get their thoughts on the Conference Finals.