CINCINNATI, Ohio – $1 PBR, puppies, and Cyclones hockey – a three-game stretch in three days doesn’t start much better in the Queen City, as the Cincinnati Cyclones welcomed the Iowa Heartlanders to town for the first-ever matchup between the two franchises. Forward Dominic Franco made his ECHL debut for the Cyclones after being sent down to make room in AHL Rochester for newly acquired forward Peyton Krebs, a key component in the trade that sent Jack Eichel to Vegas.
After last weekend’s home opener against the Indy Fuel, the Cyclones had something to prove, and it was that their defense is far more robust than they showed against the Fuel. After Cincinnati’s wins against the Iowa Heartlanders on Thursday and Saturday, the ‘Clones improved to 4-2-0-0, their second loss coming against the Fort Wayne Komets on Friday. Any team will take snagging four out of six points during a three-in-three, and for the Cyclones, it’s good enough to be a second-place team in the Central Division.
Thursday – Decisive Third Period Win
The Cyclones started Thursday’s game strong, looking to avenge the brutal defeat at the hands of the Fuel less than a week prior. A turnover in the neutral zone gave the Heartlanders a 1-0 lead as Kyle Thacker was able to put one by Mat Robson, but it didn’t take long for the ‘Clones to tie it up. Franco played like a man on a mission, driving hard into the Heartlanders’ zone, drawing a holding penalty. Franco then give the Cyclones their first power-play goal of the season with 5:27 left in the first period, the puck deflecting off of a Heartlanders defenseman and behind Trevin Kozlowski, who was excellent for the Heartlanders.
The teams would go on to trade goals, including a great feed from Nick Boka that found a streaking Johnny Coughlin in the slot, giving the ‘Clones their first lead of the game. Iowa wasted no time taking the lead back, scoring two goals in 1:10 to take a 3-2 lead. Boka, who was outstanding in Thursday’s matchup, would tie the game with an incredible individual effort to keep the puck in at the blue line. He found enough space to throw a shot on goal, and was rewarded with his first of the season.
Whatever the message was in the second intermission, it worked. Cincinnati outshot the Heartlanders 19-2 in the third period in an absolute clinic. Matt McLeod showed off his skill and speed, scoring the game-winning goal after winning a board battle against a Heartlander defenseman. Kozlowski made the initial save, but was unable to keep the puck from crossing the line when one of his blueliners crashed into the net, giving the ‘Clones a 4-3 lead. The goal was reviewed, but the call on the ice stood.
And the review is…. GOALLLLL pic.twitter.com/x8WAbScJtC
— Cincinnati Cyclones (@CincyCyclones) November 5, 2021
Gianluca Esteves would add the insurance goal on a tip-in from a McLeod shot from the blueline to give the Cyclones a 5-3 victory. Thursday’s third period was almost a complete 180 from their performance in their previous matchup against the Fuel, a performance that was welcomed by Assistant Coach Andrew Bezerra.
“The biggest key for us was remaining positive. There are going to be some bumps in the road on where we want to be, especially with our young D-core, and guys just learning lessons. Take the notes from last Saturday, and bring it to today’s third period… I thought we were pretty good the entire game.”
Friday – Comeback Falls Short
The shoe was on the other foot on Friday, as the Cyclones were outshot 12-3 by the Komets in the first period. The Komets were able to capitalize on one of their 12 shots as Connor Corcoran found the back of the net from a shot from the slot. McLeod had himself another good night, and put the Cyclones on the board 4:20 into the second period. Unfortunately for the ‘Clones, the Komets were able to regain the lead exactly two minutes later as Matt Alvaro registered his first power-play goal of the season. Kellen Jones doubled the Komets’ lead by cleaning up an Anthony Petruzzelli shot.
The Cyclones did all they could to claw back as Patrick Polino deflected a puck behind Stefanos Lekkas, courtesy of a Boka shot from the blue line. The ‘Clones were afforded one last chance to push the game past regulation, as the Komets’ Nick Jermain was sent to the box for tripping at the 17:56 mark of the third period. The Cyclones gave themselves a two-man advantage by pulling Michael Houser, but the Komets were able to seal the deal with an empty-net goal scored with 15 seconds left in the game, much to the benefit of Drake Rymsha‘s statline.
Not all was lost for all members of the Cyclones, as Boka and captain Justin Vaive left Fort Wayne with some extra jewelry, picking up their Kelly Cup rings courtesy of a championship run with the Komets last season.
Saturday – A Resounding Win
For the first time this season, the ‘Clones looked dominant for a full 60 minutes in their second game against the Iowa Heartlanders in three nights. It only took the Cyclones 3:26 to get on the board, jump-started by a beautiful feed by McLeod, who found Louie Caporusso for the Cyclones’ first of the night. Yushiroh Hirano, who has played really well away from the puck this season, was able to register his first goal of the campaign, giving the team a 2-0 lead with 3:42 left in the first period.
Graham Knott and Jesse Schultz tallied goals of their own, while Caporusso and Hirano added another goal each to give the Cyclones a 6-1 win over the Heartlanders. Harino also registered an assist, giving him 2-1-3 in the game. It was only a matter of time before Harino had a breakout game, and Saturday was his coming out party. On the other side of the ice, Jeff Linhart was the lone Heartlander to find the back of the net on Saturday.
Happy Sunday!!! ICYMI: We scored 6 goals and won last night!
? https://t.co/rfDalrRQc7 pic.twitter.com/IdjWcfPlPB
— Cincinnati Cyclones (@CincyCyclones) November 7, 2021
It’s a Long Season
There’s no doubt that the month of November is a brutal one for the Cyclones, especially to get things started. There are going to be bumps in the road, especially when you play seven games in ten nights, a stretch that the ‘Clones find themselves in as they head into their rematch with the Indy Fuel on Tuesday. In a lot of ways, the home opener against the Indy Fuel has “fueled” the ‘Clones, challenging them to find the balance between being creative, while remaining defensively sound.
Cyclones’ defenseman Johnny Coughlin shed some light on the preparation for this stretch of games:
“We’ve been stressing as a D-core to get pucks in the net… it’s one of the things we’re focusing on, so keep throwing pucks on net. We were disappointed with how that finished [last weekend against the Fuel], so the main focus in practice was honestly just hard work, so tonight we just battled and I thought we outworked [the Heartlanders].”
Worth noting, defenseman Nick Boka has looked incredible in this young campaign. Boka has registered three points (1G, 2A) in four games and has been the most energetic player for the ‘Clones night in and night out. Bezerra has been impressed by Boka’s game to this point.
“That’s Nick’s game, he has to be wild-man, he has to bring that energy every night. There’s another guy that’s looking to get to the highest possible level, and that’s his game that needs to consistently be there. His feet were moving, he was banging bodies, he was moving pucks up ice, his goal was a beautiful one and a timely one for us, and that’s what we hope to see from him the rest of the way.”
The Cyclones play their first of a back-to-back on Tuesday against the Fuel before the Kalamazoo Wings visit the Heritage Bank Center for the first time this season. Head Coach Jason Payne should have no trouble getting his team up for Tuesday’s matchup with the Fuel as they look to avenge their 6-0 loss the last time Indy was in town.
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