By Joshua Boyd / USPHLNCDC.com
Northern Cyclones (1) vs. Twin City Thunder (4)
All games to be played at Cyclones Arena, Hudson, N.H.
Game 1: Friday, March 17, 1 p.m. EST
Game 2: Saturday, March 18, 1 p.m. EST
Game 3: Sunday, March 19, 1 p.m. EST (if necessary)
The NCDC’s two most northern states will have great representation in the first round of the Dineen Cup playoffs. Both teams from New Hampshire – the Northern Cyclones and New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs are in, as are Maine’s Twin City Thunder.
The Cyclones will host the Thunder starting Friday afternoon in a best-of-three series to determine which of the two states will have guaranteed representation in the North final. The Thunder reached the North finals (and took the No. 4 seed) after winning Wednesday’s play-in game, 5-4 against the Boston Advantage. After an earlier win against the Cyclones on the last weekend of the regular season, the Thunder go into this season as a numerical underdog but with a ton of confidence.
“The game vs. the Advantage certainly was emotional with two teams fighting to earn the final playoff spot in the North. Neither team was able to find the two-goal separation. Both teams played hard but in the end we were able to do enough to get the OT win,” said Thunder Co-owner/Head Coach Dan Hodge. “I have nothing but respect for Advantage Coach Dan Szerlip and the team he had on the ice this season. He did an excellent job with those players.”
Cyclones Co-owner/Head Coach Bill Flanagan knows he’ll have a tough team on his hands – especially after the Thunder defeated the Cyclones, 6-3, in a playoff preview.
“The Thunder are well coached and play hard. We will talk about matching their work ethic and applying lessons learned over 50 games,” Flanagan said. They work hard and will make us earn anything we get.”
It was a dead-even season series – as both teams went 3-2-0-1. So, although the Thunder might’ve gotten that last W, they also gave up seven points while earning seven.
“The Cyclones are the top team in our division for a reason. They have high scoring forwards, solid defense and outstanding goaltending. Their power play is very potent so we will need to stress discipline and do our best to stay out of the penalty box,” said Hodge. “We will stress our systems and make sure we are aware of what our jobs are all over the rink.”
The Thunder had defeated the Cyclones in a close 2021 series to send themselves to the final four format of that season in Pittston, Pa., home of the future WBS Knights NCDC squad.
“The Cyclones and the Thunder seem to meet in the playoffs or with a trip to the playoffs on the line every year. Their coaching staff is excellent and they are alway prepared for every game,” said Hodge. “They play a physical style and they know how to win in their home rink. We will need to play with structure and poise in this series if we hope to have success.”
This year, the Cyclones just barely edged the South Shore Kings to clinch first in the North Division with a 29-17-2-2 record for 62 points, one ahead of the Kings. The Cyclones had a great start to their season by winning all but one of their October games for a league-best nine-game dub streak. Along the rest of the way, they remained at or near the top of the North the whole rest of the way, never dropping beneath second in North points.
They had some great depth in scoring, led by two Top 20 scorers in Paden Hicks (48 points) and Marko Giourof (47). Hicks was also third in goals scored with 28, the same number as the amount of point-scorers for the Cyclones over the course of this year. The depth extended to the team defense as well as goaltending, where Pavel Grishin played 30 games and Colin Ronan played in 29.
“We have had a lot of guys lead at one point during this 50-game journey. Zach Vandale, Jordan Gualtieri, Michael Felsing, Austin Rice and Charlie Ross are guys that I can say have been consistent since Day 1,” said Flanagan. “The players all saw some growth in their game. The players who totally committed to getting better each and every day saw significant gains. At this level, it’s the extra little things that make the biggest difference.”
Hodge couldn’t agree more with that statement, as the Thunder were in many ways a scoring by committee type of team with a deep defense and two goaltenders whom he could call on for any match-up.
“Tristan Rand and Trace Norwell both scored two goals against the Advantage in the play-inn game with Rand getting the OT winner off a nice slip pass from Nolan Leonard,” said Hodge. “Trace has been our scoring leader all season and he showed why he was selected as an NCDC All-Star [Wednesday]. Rand has been a bit snakebitten this season, but he seems to be finding his scoring touch at the right time. The OT winner was another example of how valuable he is to our team.”
Norwell finished in a tie for fourth in goals with 26 during the season, and his 50 points put him into the NCDC Top 20. How about this for goaltending depth, though? Christopher Jackson and Trey Miller made the Thunder the only NCDC team with two goalies in the 10 for both goals against average and save percentage. Miller was sixth in save percentage at .923 and Jackson was eighth at .922. Jackson was sixth at goals against average with a 2.71, a position ahead of Miller at 2.74.
“Our goaltending has been solid all season with the tandem of Chris Jackson and Trey Miller. Their talent and work ethic have helped get us to this point,” said Hodge. “When we look in the net and know either guy in there will give us a chance to win every night, it’s a good feeling.”
Getting wins was not easy in a division where the top four teams all took 17 regulation losses. The battles faced during the regular season ought to have both teams well-tested.
“The division was competitive. Every game was a battle,” said Flanagan. “Parity was on display. Every point was hard-earned.”