By Jeremy Peter
CINCINNATI – After winning a series where home ice offered little solace to either team, the Cyclones will switch gears from the quick, sharp-shooting Wheeling Nailers and get back in the trenches with a gritty group of Jackals when Cincinnati hosts Elmira Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the North Division Finals of the ECHL playoffs.
“It’s a little bit of a relief to get the first one out of the way,” Cyclones coach Chuck Weber said of the seven game Wheeling series. “Our division has been so tight all year though. We expected a tough series.”
The defending Kelly Cup Champions advanced to the finals off of another series-winning goal from winger Matt Syroczynski Monday in double-overtime. It was the first home ice win of the series and the second series ending goal of Syroczynski’s playoff career.
The first came last season against Las Vegas and earned the team their first Kelly Cup championship.
“To score those kind of goals are something every person dreams of,” Syroczynski said. “Over the last couple of years I’ve been able to put some away.”
Syroczynski leads the Cyclones with five playoff goals. Four of those goals have come off the power play, which is a league best.
Cincinnati and Elmira share a similar hard-nosed style of play and were nearly even in most categories during the regular season. The Cyclones averaged 19.3 penalty minutes a game, while the Jackals averaged 20.9.
The two teams were also neck-and-neck in shots on goal (29.7 to 29.0) and goals allowed per game (3.21 to 3.22) respectively.
“It’s a trademark of Elmira to be physical,” Weber said. “Their defensive guys are very athletic. Wheeling was more high flying and wide open, (Elmira) look(s) to create havoc with their physical play.”
Hard-edged play has helped Elmira separate itself from Cincinnati in playoff statistics. The Jackals have three of the league’s Top 10 post season scorers.
The Jackals also have a top goalie on their roster in Michael Teslak. Teslak, who is 4-0-2 in the playoffs, has the fourth-best goals against average at 1.83 and a 0.942 save percentage.
“I think this series will be a little more intense,” Syroczynski said. “A little more hitting and a little more scrums.”
The change of pace from the Cyclones’ first playoff opponent doesn’t bother Syroczynski.
“Realistically, I think we can play any style,” he said. “We’re the division champs. So we feel that we should take this series and prove the regular season wasn’t a fluke.”