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Cyclones rampaging through ECHL

by Brian Compton
Barret Ehgoetz has nine points and a plus-7 rating in 14 games this season and went 18-26-44 in 69 games with Cincinnati in 2006-07.
After a phenomenal return to the ECHL in 2006-07, the Cincinnati Cyclones have picked up where they left off.

Cyclones coach Chuck Weber, who guided Cincinnati to a record of 37-29-6 and a third-place finish in the North Division last season, has his team flying out of the gate. The Cyclones, who have won six of their last seven and eight of 10, currently sit atop the division at 10-3-1. Thus far, they’ve outscored their opponents by a margin of 56-30.

Weber attributed much of this season’s success to his affiliations. The Cyclones, who were already partnered with the Montreal Canadiens, added a second agreement prior to the start of the season with the Nashville Predators. Cincinnati has since received six prospects from each organization.

“We knew that we had some talent coming in with the two affiliations,” Weber said. “The big unknown was how the kids from the two organizations would blend and accept roles. We have a fantastic group of kids.”

Weber helped land the affiliation with the Predators mainly because of his relationship with Nashville assistant coach Peter Horachek. Weber was Horachek’s assistant coach in Trenton in 2001-02 and again with AHL Milwaukee the following season.

Given Nashville’s desire to land an ECHL affiliate, combined with the relationship Weber shares with several members of the Predators’ organization, it was a perfect fit. Weber also had the opportunity to work at both Montreal’s and Nashville’s rookie camps over the summer.

“They wanted to have a feeder system in the ECHL,” Weber said of the Predators. “They knew the best feeder from a Double-A standpoint is the (ECHL). They knew me, so they were comfortable, especially with the results that we had last year when no one expected too much from us.”

Indeed nobody did, but the Cyclones had a tremendous season and reached the North Division finals before losing a grueling seven-game series to the Dayton Bombers, the eventual American Conference champions.

In Year 2, Weber’s Cyclones continue to build off the momentum they gained last season. While they are extremely young -- defenseman Chad Starling and forward Avery Wilson are the team’s oldest players at 27 -- Weber, along with Cincinnati’s affiliates, have put together a group that is primed to be a major force in the ECHL again this season.

“I think last year we surprised a lot of people around the league,” said Barret Ehgoetz, who has nine points and a plus-7 rating in 14 games this season and went 18-26-44 in 69 games with Cincinnati in 2006-07. “I think we surprised ourselves at times. We just kind of built off that momentum from last year. Going into last year, I don’t think we really knew what to expect. We’ve raised the level of expectations and raised the bar. It’s good to get off to a good start.”

It’s important, too. With so many of Weber’s players under AHL contracts, the Cyclones’ coach knows it’s only a matter of time before some of them earn promotions. Once that happens, the Cyclones could struggle the way so many teams have in the past due to the call-up bug.

“At some point, we’re going to get killed with call-ups and injuries,” Weber said. “The guys know that while we’ve got a good thing going, we’ve got to keep it going. It’s been great to see these guys work as hard as they do night in and night out.”

That certainly has to be a testament to Weber’s coaching style. The Cyclones’ coach demands the best from his players on a nightly basis, especially when he has the depth to replace those not giving their all. Ehgoetz admires Weber’s philosophies, which is one of the many reasons why he agreed to play for Cincinnati again this season.

“He’s been great to play for,” Ehgoetz said. “He’s the type of coach that puts the onus on the players. He gives you opportunities and responsibility. It’s good to know that he trusts you out there. He’s not riding guys all the time. He lets the players deal with a lot of things themselves. He trusts his players more than anything. That’s a big thing.”

How this season winds up could go a long way in determining Weber’s future. Given his contacts at the higher levels, combined with the success he’s enjoyed thus far in Cincinnati, and it could only be a matter of time before he gets a promotion himself.

Weber said one of his inspirations as far as coaching is concerned is Rockford Ice Hogs coach Mike Haviland, who has a similar background as the Cincinnati coach. While neither enjoyed much success professionally on the ice, both are tireless workers behind the bench. Haviland won two ECHL titles before the Chicago Blackhawks hired him to coach their Triple-A affiliate. Both Haviland (1999-2001) and Weber (2001-02) were also assistant coaches of the Trenton Titans at one point in their respective careers.

“There’s a lot of really good coaches in the ECHL,” Weber said. “We’re all paying our dues to hopefully move up. It’s what Mike Haviland did. You win, you get the opportunity. I look at Haviland as one of those guys that didn’t have a long playing career and he was able to go from an assistant coach in the ECHL to a head coach in the ECHL. Now, he’s had a lot of success at the American League level.”

Hall of Fame Class Announced -- The ECHL announced its inaugural Hall of Fame Class Wednesday. The first four members are Henry Brabham, Patrick J. Kelly, Nick Vitucci and Chris Valicevic.

The foursome will be inducted at a luncheon ceremony on Jan. 23, 2008, during the ECHL All-Star festivities in Stockton, Calif.

Brabham founded the ECHL, formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League, in 1988-89

Nick Vitucci is one of four members of the ECHL's inaugural Hall of Fame Class.

with five teams in four states. Brabham owned three of the original five teams, including the Johnstown Chiefs. The dedication of the Virginia businessman was crucial to the league surviving to span from coast-to-coast while advancing more than 330 players and countless coaches, on-ice officials and front office personnel to the National Hockey League.

Kelly was the inaugural Commissioner of the ECHL, which from 1988-96 experienced the greatest expansion in minor league hockey history, growing from five teams to 21. He was instrumental in establishing affiliations with teams in the NHL, creating the opportunity for players, on-ice officials and front office personnel to develop and move up the hockey ladder. He became Commissioner Emeritus in 1996 and since 1997 has presented the postseason champion with the Patrick J. Kelly Cup.

Vitucci has won a record five ECHL championships, four as a player and one as an assistant coach, and has been involved with the league as a player and coach every season since the league’s inception. Named the postseason Most Valuable Player twice, he played 14 seasons and is the career leader among goaltenders in games, minutes and wins for both the regular season and the postseason. He played in two All-Star Games and was named First Team All-ECHL in 1991-92 and 1997-98. He was head coach of the Toledo Storm from 2003-07 and was named ECHL Coach of the Year in 2004-05, when he guided Toledo to a record of 41-26-5.

Valicevic established himself as not only one of the best defensemen in league history during a nine-year career spent with the Greensboro Monarchs and the Louisiana IceGators. He was selected to a record seven All-Star Games and was named First Team All-ECHL five times while being named the league Most Valuable Player in 1998-99. He is the all-time leader with 102 postseason games and is the career regular season and postseason leader among defensemen in assists and points. congratulates all four inductees on this fantastic accomplishment.

Around the ECHL -- The Stockton Thunder named defenseman Brad Farynuk as their captain this week. Farynuk is currently on a call-up with AHL Springfield. … The Wheeling Nailers signed 37-year-old defenseman Francois Leroux, who has seen time in the NHL with Pittsburgh, Colorado, Edmonton and Ottawa. … The Victoria Salmon Kings signed defenseman Eric Nelson. … The Florida Everblades signed forward Brandon Coalter. … Dan LaCosta of the Elmira Jackals was named the Goalie of the Week after going 2-0-0 with a 0.96 GAA and .973 save percentage. … The Gwinnett Gladiators signed forward Bryan Dobek. … The Pensacola Ice Pilots signed veteran forward Konstantin Kalmikov.

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