ORLANDO, FLA – Last Thursday, Cincinnati Cyclones forward Byron Froese missed game one of his team’s ECHL Eastern conference quarterfinal series against Orlando with an injury. Sunday night in game two, he more than made up for that lost game.
Froese notched his first professional career playoff hat trick and added two assists for good measure as the Cyclones beat the host Solar Bears 7-3 in front of an announced Easter night crowd of 4,743 at the Amway Center. With the victory, the Cyclones head home with a two games to none lead in the best-of-seven series.
“It was really a two goal game. They (Orlando) pulled their goalie to try to generate some offense. I totally understand what they were doing. We scored a couple of empty net goals,” Cincinnati head coach Ben Simon said. “They’ve had plenty of offensive chances and we have to tighten up defensively. They’re very talented. They’ve got some forwards that are very capable of scoring and we have to try to nip that in the bud real quick and negate any chances.”
Froese got plenty of help from his teammates. Barry Almeida, who was a part of Reading’s Kelly Cup championship run a season ago, picked up a goal and two assists and Josh McFadden, who was assigned from the AHL San Antonio Rampage by the Florida Panthers, added a couple of helpers himself as ten different Cyclones had at least one point in the contest.
In the wake of Thursday’s loss, Orlando head coach Vince Williams inserted goalie Cody Reichard into the starting lineup, hoping for a spark. Reichard did indeed get the crowd going with several first period saves but his counterpart Rob Madore matched stop for stop. It was not until the 17:39 mark of the opening frame when Froese found Almeida on the backside of the play for a goal that either netminder allowed one past them.
Solar Bears defenseman Blake Kessel brought the home fans back into the game just over a minute into the second period. Kessel pinched in from the point and stole the puck from a Cyclones player. He continued on, driving toward the front of the net where he roofed a shot over Madore’s shoulder to tie the game.
Cincinnati’s push back was swift and decisive. Exactly one minute after Kessel’s score, McFadden set up Froese for the goal that put the Cyclones ahead to stay. One minute and twenty-two seconds later, Almeida centered a pass from below the goal line between three defenders to Froese who rapped it home for his second of the night.
“Froese was out for a little bit with an injury there. The time off between game one and game two gave us a little bit more time for him to recover a little bit,” Cincinnati head coach Ben Simon said. “Obviously those days were great for him to recover. He came back and fit (in) great. We picked him up late in the year and this is what we expect out of him.”
It took Orlando almost five minutes to answer back when a blast from the point from Cody Wild beat Madore. Bracketing the goal was a combination of Madore putting up a wall (stoning Taylor Matson on a point blank shot and going post-to-post to rob Jake Cepis) and bad luck (Tyler Murovich solidly hitting a post). When Wade Megan scored his third goal in two games to push the Cincinnati lead back to two, it was clear that the Solar Bears were in trouble.
“I didn’t think we were actually bad in the first two periods. It’s coming down to the little things. It’s a game of inches,” Orlando coach Williams said. “We’re losing those inch battles. At the end of the day, we were in position to prevent goals and we’re just not hard enough. We’re not being aware of a guy and there are a lot of tap-ins in the house (front of the net) and being stripped off of pucks. That’s the difference right now. It’s a whole different time of the year. There’s opportunities and we’re having chances to score and we’re not.”
Any hopes that the Solar Bears had of staging a major comeback took a hit early in the third when during a four-on-four situation, Trevor Lewis got loose in the corner to Reichard’s right and lifted a shot into the short side top corner. With Orlando having difficulty getting shots on Madore (30 saves), the three-goal margin looked comfortable.
Murovich finally dented Madore with a perfectly placed shot off the inside of the far post with 4:35 left in regulation, getting the fans thinking a big finish was coming. It was not to be as Williams’ gamble of pulling Reichard (28 saves) with over two minutes to go resulted in two long range empty net scores, one by Jonathan Hazen and the other by Froese with 14 ticks left on the clock.
As the teams travel north for game three on Wednesday, Solar Bears captain Eric Baier said he hopes the change in venue will bring better luck.
“We’ve been solid on the road and I think a change in environment might be good,” Baier said. “We’ve been kicking around here for a while after being on the road for so long and we were able to string together some wins. We’re definitely looking forward to getting up there and doing what we (know we) can do.”
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