Cyclones balance hockey and academics

Cyclone Hockey players hit the ice at the start of the second period during the game against Alabama Hockey Oct. 5 at the Ames/ISU Ice Arena.

Stephen Mcdaniel

College hockey endures one of the longest seasons in collegiate sports. Practices and workouts start as early as August, while games can start in September and last until late March, creating pressure between the nets and inside the classroom.

For the Iowa State men’s Division I team, its first set of games of the season came in a non-American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) matchup against Waldorf University on Sept. 21-22. The end of the season will come in late March with the National Tournament, which takes place March 22-26 in Dallas, Texas.

Even with the long schedule, filled with tough teams all throughout, the Cyclones have found success this season. They’ve fought their way into the top five in the ACHA Men’s Division I rankings in week 11 and have remained in the top five since.

However, the ice isn’t the only place where the Cyclones find success: the team also excels in the classroom. The grind of being a student and a hockey player that the team faces, along with their success in the classroom, is something coach and general manager Jason Fairman takes pride in.

“We want to make sure they’re preparing themselves future success after hockey,” Fairman said. “I think part of that is making sure they’re doing well in the classroom.”

When it comes to the players, there’s a general consensus that getting acclimated to the life of being a student and a hockey player at once is tough at first. Hockey and academics take up a large chunk of their week, especially when they practice during the week and have to play two games during the weekend.

Goaltender Nikita Kozak, a senior mechanical engineering major, explains that he spends around 30 hours a week on hockey and the rest of his spare time goes toward academics, with some extra free time on weekends.

With all the time that’s devoted to hockey, everyone on the team knows they also have to find time to devote to their classwork.

“My mornings are full of classes then I go straight to practice, having to get into the mindset of coming straight from school to right to practice and working hard in both,” said freshman forward C.J. Banser. “Once I’m done with practice, go right back to the books at night and make sure I got my stuff done before I have any leisure time.”

Despite the amount of time each player dedicates to hockey and their academic work, they are able to find different ways to be successful in the classroom.

One of the best ways the players are able to get their work done is utilizing time spent on the road. The Cyclones’ season has seen them travel to places like Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and even Texas for the 2019 National Tournament.

Kozak mentions that the team enjoys exploring the cities that they visit, but some will also find time to utilize nearby libraries or hotel office areas as places where they can get school work done.

Senior defenseman Kurt Halbach also explained how road trips are very useful because they don’t have the same kinds of distractions that staying in Ames has and they provide the extra time that doing school work can fill.

Another way the team finds success in the classroom is by helping each other out. Even though the team has a variety of different majors, they’re able to rely on each other for help.

Those who share similar majors are also able to take classes with each other, which is the case for senior defensemen Halbach and Nick Sandy.

“We’re both supply chain management majors, so we basically take every supply chain class we’ve had together,” Halbach said. “So it’s been really nice to have guys on the team that you’re able to work with.”

However, the success doesn’t stop with the players. Fairman, on top of being the coach and general manager of Cyclone Hockey, is currently working toward a doctorate’s degree in educational leadership, adding on to his bachelor’s degree in applied economics that he received from Cornell University and a Master of Business Administration in finance.

Fairman had a successful playing career before lingering effects of an injury led to the end of his playing career. This is when he started coaching and found success coaching several different teams.

However, coaching and working toward a doctorate’s degree wasn’t originally on his radar. Despite this, Fairman has helped the Cyclones remain a top team in the ACHA. Being able to pursue his doctorate while being the head coach of the Division I team and also overseeing the business operations has proven to be a tough task.

“It’s the biggest challenge of my life to try to balance that,” Fairman said. “I think it’s taken a toll on me personally.”

Fairman also said that it is in no way a complaint, but that the way the program is structured, it takes a lot to manage it and has proven to be a challenge.

Throughout their time in the classroom and on the ice, everyone has found different skills that can be applied to both environments.

Hockey is a very team-based game, which helps players learn how to work well as a unit. It also teaches the players individual skills, such as being able to manage their time wisely, being disciplined and having patience.

While the season is still going strong, everyone still has future plans outside of hockey.

Fairman is determined to finish up his work in getting his doctorate’s degree in educational leadership. Halbach wants to put his degree to work and land a nice job in supply chain.

Kozak likes the idea of pursuing a doctorate’s degree of his own, and he would like to get his own research group at a national lab or start a company that would focus on the research and development of automotive engines or gas turbine engines.

Banser is finishing up his freshman year as a business major and is focused on being a student and playing hockey, both of which he’s dedicated to.

“I made the commitment at the beginning of the year that this is what I wanted to do, something I want to do,” Banser said. “I’m going to work hard at both and it’s obviously a big part of my life, so I wouldn’t change it.”