Cyclone Hockey faces adversity in attempt to repeat as league tournament champions

Senior Kody Reuter passes the puck to another cyclone player during the Iowa State vs Ohio University hockey game on February 17th. The Cyclones lost to the Bobcats 6-1.

Spencer Suckow

It’s not often that defending champions could be considered underdogs.

That’s the situation Cyclone Hockey finds itself in this weekend, however, as the team heads to Athens, Ohio, for the Central States Collegiate Hockey League (CSCHL) tournament. Though the No. 11 Cyclones won the league tournament last season, this year they find themselves as the fourth seed out of five teams.

This means Iowa State has to play what’s essentially a play-in game against fifth-seeded Robert Morris on Friday, and to repeat as champions, the Cyclones will have to play three games in one weekend.

“We put ourselves in this situation,” said head coach and general manager Jason Fairman. “Obviously fatigue is probably going to be a factor, but teams have done it before and we’ll have to find a way to dig deep and get it done.”

Making matters even more difficult is the Cyclones have to travel 10 hours to play in the tournament. Attempting to combat this challenge, the team is leaving from Ames on Thursday night to help minimize the effects of “bus legs.”

Although having to make the trip and play as many as three games isn’t ideal, team members are using the less-than-ideal circumstances as a source of motivation. According to junior forward Colton Kramer, the last thing the team wants to do is make such a long trip just to be done in one night.

“You don’t want to think about it as going there for one game,” Kramer said. “We’re there to go all the way, so we’re preparing to stay the three days.”

Kramer said their opponent Friday night could also serve as a source of motivation. Just two years ago, Robert Morris themselves won the CSCHL tournament despite playing three games and being the lowest seeded team at the tournament.

This goes to show that seeding may not mean that much in this tournament. This season in particular, teams in the CSCHL have beaten up on each other and the league slate has proven to be a challenge.

In fact, just as little as two weeks ago, all five teams in the league were ranked in the top 10 of the American Collegiate Hockey Association computer polls.

Things were so close between the five teams that it took until just last weekend to settle everything seeding-wise.

Lindenwood and Ohio ended up sharing the regular season league title thanks to a regulation win by Ohio against Iowa State (which helped cost the Cyclones the three seed), and seeds three, four and five were decided by an Illinois overtime win on Saturday against Robert Morris.

“Our league is very competitive and we’ve seen everything happen,” said senior goalie Derek Moser after Saturday’s loss to Ohio. “We’ve got to bring effort every night and stay sharp.”

Staying sharp for multiple games at a time has been a well-documented issue for the Cyclones this season, as the team hasn’t swept an opponent since it, coincidently, swept Robert Morris on the weekend of Jan. 19.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been flashes, however. Despite their struggles with consistency, Iowa State has actually beaten every team in the CSCHL this year. In fact, the only team the Cyclones lost a season series to was co-regular season champion Lindenwood.

This means, despite an up-and-down season, it would be unwise to count out Iowa State despite the adversity they’ll have to face this weekend.

On top of that, there’s still plenty of experience on this season’s team from last year’s league tournament title team, and the 2018 Cyclones claim they’re eager for a chance this weekend to accomplish a feat that Cyclone Hockey hasn’t seen in a long time.

“Iowa State hasn’t won back-to-back CSCHL championships since 1991,” Fairman said. “Anytime you win a championship in the top league in the country, it’s something that’s worthwhile.

“That’s why we have banners, so guys can come back and visit campus and tell their kids ‘I was on that team.’”