The Kelly Cup Finals are underway which means the dust is finally beginning to settle on another hockey season for many of the teams around the league. After falling victim to a sweep in the second round of this year’s playoffs, the Cincinnati Cyclones are now one of the teams looking forward to next season. The 2022-2023 season wasn’t anything to forget about or regret for the Cyclones, though. With a club record point streak smashed and multiple players finding ways to put up big numbers, the Cyclones have a solid foundation laid for building on their success in the upcoming 2023-2024 ECHL season. Let’s take a quick look back at the incredible year the Cyclones had.
Something To Prove
Straight from the first puck drop of the 2022-2023 season, the Cyclones were rolling. Opening up the season with four consecutive wins in the back half of October, the team came right out of the gate playing like a team with something to prove. There would be no slowing down for the month of November. Facing a slew of divisional foes the team would only lose four games in November, all by one to two goal margins. Through the first month and a half of play, the Cyclones would foment themselves as team that wouldn’t be put away as an afterthought.
It would be in December that the wheels started to squeak. After getting the better of their opponents the majority of the time through October and November, the last month of the 2022 calendar year would prove to be a bit of an up and down trek for Cincinnati. A handful of losses and victories that came in extra periods of hockey would be the trend. Wins and losses would bookend themselves through a month that, although albeit, slowed the team down. The midseason woes would continue into the month of January. The first month of the new year came with more losses than wins, including a 6-0 loss at the hands of in-division foe Indy Fuel. The Cyclones appeared to be taking steps backwards.
Then came the course correction. Losing twice at the start the month of February, the Cincinnati Cyclones took their fate into their own hands. Following a 5-2 loss in Kalamazoo on February 5th, the Cyclones went streaking. Picking up points in 21 consecutive games, Cincinnati buzzed through the months of February and March, solidifying themselves at the top of the Central Division. The team even had a nine game win streak in the month of March, going without a loss from March 8th to March 26th. They would become the fourth team in league history to go on such a run, which would meet its end on March 31st in an 11-0 blowout loss to the out of conference South Carolina Stingrays.
Splitting April with four wins and three losses, the Cyclones would move on to the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs as the kings of the Central Division. The first round would see the Cyclones against the Fort Wayne Komets, a team the Cyclones played nine times in the regular season. After a back and forth run between the two teams, Cincinnati would send the Komets home in Game Seven and move on to face the Toledo Walleye in the second round. It was in the division finals round where the team ran into an immovable force. After dropping the first three games in the series, Toledo would ensure that the Cyclones’ season had come to the end of the road. With a resounding 9-2 victory in Game Four, the Cyclones would be eliminated from playoff contention.
Big Year, Big Numbers
Finishing the season with 103 points, the Cincinnati Cyclones finished the regular season as the number one team in the ECHL’s Central Division. The team, who had already amassed 20 wins by the All-Star break in Mid-January, finished the regular season with a 47-16-6-3 record. Additionally Cincinnati played eleven games in the postseaon, going 4-7 in the playoffs after losing in the division finals to Toledo. It was the second year behind the bench for Head Coach Jason Payne, who improved on a first-year 76 point performance. Payne also served as a coach for the Western Conference All-Star Team this year, his third consecutive year serving in an All-Star coaching role. Five Cyclones players hit 50 or more points this season, including defenseman Jalen Smereck. Smereck signed with the team in September after spending time playing overseas in Ukraine and Germany. Smereck ended the season first amongst Cyclones defenders with 50 points, picking up 11 goals and 39 assists through 53 games. With his 50 points he ended tied for fifth amongst defensive league leaders for the year.
Joining Smereck in the 50 point club are forwards Justin Vaive and Patrick Polino. Justin Vaive was the ECHL’s Player of the Week for the week of February 6th – 12th. Vaive finished the year with 52 points, scoring 32 goals and contributing 20 assists through 72 games. Like Vaive, Patrick Polino played in all 72 games for Cincinnati this season. Polino finished the year with 54 points, collecting 23 goals and 31 assists during the season. Forward Matt Berry joined the 61 point club. Berry, who signed with the team in September, played in 63 games with the Cyclones this season. Earning points just shy of a point-per-game pace, Berry scored 17 goals and racked up 44 assists. Louie Caporusso and Zack Andrusiak are the two Cyclones forwards to hit the 70 point mark this season. Caporusso hit a new career high 71 points this season, doing so by scoring 23 goals and amassing 48 assists through 68 games played. He is joined by Zack Andrusiak who finished the year with 73 points, setting new career highs in all areas. Andrusiak earned the league’s Player of the Week title for the week of February 20th -26th. He finished as one of the top points leaders in the league with 32 goals and 41 assists.
The Cincinnati Cyclones crease was monitored by two key netminders this season. Mark Sinclair and Beck Warm spilt the starts in net this season, with Warm getting a few more starting nods. Warm finished the year with a .899 save percentage and a goals against average of 3.01. Warm’s performance in the opening portion of the season earned him the ECHL’s Goaltender of the Month honors in October. Mark Sinclair provided the extra support in net, finishing the year with 19 wins and a .915 save percentage. Sinclair also ended the season with a 2.70 goals against average. Bolstering their goaltenders in net was a lethal Cincinnati special teams. The Cyclones ended the season with one of the highest shorthanded goal totals in the league, scoring 17 of them. The team closed out the year with an 82% penalty kill and an 18% power play success rate.
Although their postseason was abruptly cut short, the Cyclones have given themselves a firm foundation to build upon. Under Head Coach Jason Payne the team is improving at a consistent rate, playing competitive, high powered hockey. They have shown that they can outscore and out-battle divisional teams, and play with an edge to their game over long stretches. There simply is not a lot of give in the Cyclones’ game once they get going. Scoring comes from throughout the line-up as well as from the blueline, making Cincinnati a lethl, multi-facted threat on the ice. If the team can continue their upwards trend, the entire league should take notice.