The journey of Ray Zimmerman

Junior Ray Zimmerman looks to pass the puck during Iowa State’s 2-1 victory over Robert Morris on Dec. 7 at the Ames Ice Arena.

Jared Bravard

Ray Zimmerman became a staple of Cyclone Hockey’s Division II team during his freshman and sophomore year.

During his junior year, he retained that role but on the Division I team instead.

“We could tell he had talent, but I think that he just needed to develop his game a little bit,” said Jason Fairman, head coach and general manager of Cyclone Hockey. “We suspected that was gonna happen — that he would eventually be a [Division I] player — and he certainly proved that this season.”

Zimmerman is originally from Highland Lakes, New Jersey. He has been playing hockey for as long as he can remember. Growing up, Zimmerman was a multi-sport athlete, playing baseball, basketball, lacrosse and soccer. Once he reached high school, his focus was solely on lacrosse and hockey.

Zimmerman attended a public high school for two years before transferring to Trinity-Pawling School, a prep school in New York, for his junior and senior year.

When looking at potential universities, Zimmerman wanted a quality education in engineering in addition to the opportunity of playing hockey. His high school coach knew an assistant coach of Cyclone Hockey at the time. Through this, Zimmerman learned of Cyclone Hockey’s reputation. He was also aware of the engineering programs at Iowa State.

After a visit to Cyclone Hockey and weighing all the factors, Iowa State ended up being Zimmerman’s decision.

“I wanted to go to a big school, and this happened to be a fit for me — just happened to be a little far from home,” Zimmerman said.

When Zimmerman arrived on campus for team workouts before the season, he was placed in a group with fellow freshman Blake Ramsey, who also did not know many people on the team. The two made an instant connection.

They had a class together that fall and were both placed on the Division II team. Ramsey said the two become closer by the end of their freshman year and their friendship has developed every year they have played together.

“My relationship with Ray has been phenomenal,” Ramsey said.

During the 2017-18 season, Zimmerman scored 10 goals and tallied six assists in 27 appearances. He spent two minutes in the penalty box all season. Zimmerman’s 10 goals put him in third on the team in scoring.

Zimmerman more than doubled his stats in the 2018-19 season. In 23 appearances, he scored a team-high 22 goals, tallied 15 assists and spent six minutes in the penalty box. He finished third for assists on the team and first in points.

Zimmerman said some of the most fun hockey he has played was during his two years on the Division II team.

“The guys on the team made it a blast,” Zimmerman said. “[…] I thoroughly enjoyed my two years playing [Division II].”

In April 2019, Zimmerman participated in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) All-Star Challenge. The tournament occurs every two years to showcase the best players from each ACHA Division II conference. Players are nominated by coaches and chosen by a committee.

Zimmerman and four fellow Cyclones — including Ramsey — were on a team that represented their conference, the Mid-American Collegiate Hockey Association (MACHA). Rivals become teammates over this three-day challenge. Zimmerman said you don’t have to get to know each other if you don’t want to, but they took it upon themselves to make connections — something he enjoyed.

“Our team became very close, very quick,” Zimmerman said.

He credits this as part of the reason the MACHA team ended up winning the tournament.

In a year-end meeting with Fairman after the ACHA All-Star Challenge, Zimmerman learned about his opportunity to be called up to the Division I team. Fairman told Zimmerman that nothing was guaranteed, but the intentions were to have Zimmerman join the Division I team.

During the following months, Zimmerman continued going to team workouts along with finding additional time to skate in preparation for the start of the season that fall. He was excited but knew the time commitment would increase.

With 14 departures from the 2018-19 Division I team, plenty of skates needed filling. In those departures, 80 percent of the scoring also left. Zimmerman stepped in to help fill the void.

“He’s a natural goal scorer, which is something you really can’t coach,” Fairman said. “And he was a great addition to the [Division I] team considering the challenges we had scoring.”

Zimmerman wasted no time in finding the back of the net. He scored in the first period of his first Division I game on Sept. 20 against Waldorf. Zimmerman went on to score in his next two games as well.

During the 2019-20 season, Zimmerman appeared in 39 of the 40 games, scoring a team-high 15 goals, tallying nine assists and spending 12 minutes in the penalty box. He finished second on the team for points, one behind senior Dylan Goggin.

Fairman said he looked to Zimmerman in a lot of key situations, as Zimmerman registered time on the Cyclones’ power play, penalty kill and centered one of the lines this season.

Ramsey echoed Fairman’s thoughts about Zimmerman’s effect on the team.

“This year he was a huge impact for us,” Ramsey said. “We kind of lacked scoring this year, lacked a little bit of offense, and he played a huge role in providing some of that offense. He’s a great goal scorer. I feel like he’s just a natural goal scorer. His ability to put the puck in the net is huge and was huge for us this year.”

Ramsey has been alongside Zimmerman throughout their time in Cyclone Hockey. In addition to the workout group and class their freshman year, the two have been on the same team in their time with Cyclone Hockey. Both spent two years on the Division II team. Both went to the ACHA All-Star Challenge. They also got called up to the Division I team at the same time. The two became close in all the time they spent together on and off the ice.

Ramsey said Zimmerman is quiet but deadly and knows the right time to speak.

“He’s really a jokester, but you wouldn’t really tell that from your initial conversation or meeting with him because he’s a straightforward guy but great guy to be around — great team guy to have in the locker room,” Ramsey said. “He’ll do anything for any of the boys, that’s for sure.”

Ramsey had a front seat to Zimmerman’s development, saying he is a more complete player and a go-to guy for the Cyclones.

Not only has Zimmerman made an impact with his play, he has also affected the team with his positive attitude.

“Every time I see Ray, he’s always got a smile on his face,” Fairman said. “I think he’s well liked. He’s a good locker room guy.”

Ramsey also notices Zimmerman’s smile. Ramsey said it is a rare occasion to see Zimmerman without a smile. He also said Zimmerman has an uplifting tone and attitude and tries to bring the team up with him.

Zimmerman said this comes from his parents and the area where he grew up. He also said it affects him on the ice.

“I play better when I’m happy, so I may as well be happy,” Zimmerman said.

As a junior, Zimmerman still has one more season with the Cyclones before obtaining a degree in construction engineering. With this degree, Zimmerman hopes to obtain a job somewhere warmer in the U.S. before eventually returning to the New Jersey area.