Cyclone Hockey concludes turbulent 2017-18 season

Members of the Cyclone Hockey club team line up on center ice after the final period of their first official game of the season Sept. 22. The Cyclones defeated Illinois State 4-1. 

Spencer Suckow

It wasn’t a year anyone associated with the Cyclone Hockey team expected.

Sure, things started out the way the team hoped it would, with a preseason top five ranking in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) polls and an 11-2-1-0 start to the season.

However, that promising start ended with a thud for the Cyclones after a 3-2 quarterfinal loss to Robert Morris University in the ACHA National Tournament, which put an end to one of the most trying seasons for the Cyclones in recent memory.

“This is certainly the most disappointing season that I’ve ever been a part of in my time here,” said head coach and general manager Jason Fairman.

From an outsider’s perspective, one might wonder how a national tournament berth and top 12 finish in the ACHA computer polls could be considered a disappointment.

Well, it’s relative to expectations. Before the season even started and throughout its course, players and coaches repeatedly mentioned how the team believes it should compete for a national championship every year.

With the Cyclones recent track record, it’s hard to blame them for having that mentality. With a national championship appearance in 2015 and a stint as the No. 1 team in the country in 2016, there is a certain standard the team has set for themselves. This year, for a multitude of reasons, the team didn’t live up to those standards.

To be sure, there were flashes. The team had a number of wins against top teams, including a combined three against national semifinalists in Illinois and Lindenwood, and the Cyclones’ 10 wins against teams ranked in the top 10 proved they could consistently compete with just about anyone.

On the other side of that, despite occasional strong showings, the team frequently had consistency issues. A great game one night was frequently followed with an equally poor outing the next night, much to the frustration of the coaches and players.

“We had trouble with consistency all year,” Fairman said. “We just could never seem to put together good performances on back-to-back nights.”

Although plenty of that was their own doing, Fairman also mentioned that factors outside of the team’s control couldn’t be ignored either.

The Cyclones were decimated with injuries for a good chunk of the year, particularly late in the fall semester, and there were several off-ice issues that Iowa State was forced to deal with privately.

This led to a considerable shortage in depth, which, when coupled with the ACHA’s toughest strength of schedule, factored into the derailment of a talented team that had high expectations. If there is a silver lining, however, it’s that a lot of that talent is coming back.

The Cyclones only graduate three seniors from their Division I team (albeit, this includes a team captain in Kody Reuter and nearly all of their experience at goalie), and the team is expected to be loaded with seniors from what Fairman called his “most heralded” recruiting class back in 2015.

This includes forwards like leading scorers Tony Uglem, Aaron Azevedo and Colton Kramer, along with key defensemen like Nick Sandy and Jake Arroyo.

This means the expectations may be even higher going into next season, despite the disappointing end to this season.

The three aforementioned forwards in particular, all of whom have played on the same line together for multiple seasons; will be expected to produce big numbers once again. According to Azevedo, just how big those numbers get is usually determined in the offseason.

“We create those opportunities with a lot of training in the offseason,” Azevedo said. “Just kind of working on small areas and creating that time and space.”

In addition to the team’s veterans, the Cyclones are also expecting big contributions from this freshman class going into their sophomore season.

Players like Dylan Goggin, Jared Erickson and Justin Paulson gradually improved as the season went on this year, to the point where they became key contributors who consistently ended up in the score column on a nightly basis near the end of the season.

That production, coupled with their combined work ethics, earned them the confidence and trust of their teammates and coaches. Now, they’ll be expected to carry that momentum into the offseason and, hopefully, have it lead to larger contributions next season.

“Our rookies worked extremely hard all year,” Uglem said. “They’re a group of guys that you don’t really have to tell to come to the rink and work, they’re always just there and ready to go.”

That type of mentality, not just from the freshmen, but from the team as a whole, will come in handy when the team eventually gets to its offseason workouts.

For now, however, Fairman says he and the team will use the season’s end to slightly decompress and, in his particular case, recruit. The Cyclones’ head coach admits he hasn’t thought ahead to next season as of yet, and he plans to let things sink in before going forward.

Eventually, though, the team will get back to the grind and the new season will be here before they know it. With a seemingly loaded senior class and a maturing group of young players, the team is feeling a sense of urgency to make a run with its current core.

Because of that, even with some questions and inexperience in net, outsider expectations will undoubtedly be high going into next season.  However, as the team has made perfectly clear time and again, they won’t be as high as what the Cyclones expect from themselves.

“Our first goal is to win the regular season title, then obviously the (Central States Collegiate Hockey League) tournament title and then the national championship,” Fairman said. “We want to check those boxes in order.”