Cyclone Hockey swept by Illinois thanks to overtime loss

Junior Nick Sandy pulled a University of Illinois player out from inside the goal after he fell on senior Matt Goedeke. He began showing signed of a fight beginning. This was the only fight-like incident during this game on January 27th.

Spencer Suckow

Close to the halfway point in the third period, No. 10 Iowa State looked like it was well on its way to a 3-1 season series win over No. 9 Illinois.

When it was all said and done, however, Cyclone Hockey suffered a second tough loss in as many nights to their Central States Collegiate Hockey League rival.

Illinois captain Joseph Ritondale scored the game-winning goal 1:30 into overtime, following a tying goal from Tyler Opilka in the third, which gave the Cyclones their first winless series of the semester. After the game, the Cyclones couldn’t help but feel like they let one slip through their fingers.

“It’s one of those games where I thought we should’ve had,” said head coach and general manager Jason Fairman. “To have the lead and to battle the way we did and lose, it’s disappointing.”

The loss drops the Cyclones to 16-12-2 on the season, and gives the team a 2-2 record against Illinois for the second straight season. In a bit of a statistical oddity, the home team in this series during that timespan is 0-8.

For Illinois, the overtime win serves as a nice bit of revenge after the Cyclones swept the Illini in similarly heart breaking fashion. Back on Nov. 4, 2017, junior forward Aaron Azevedo of the Cyclones scored a game-winning goal with 38.6 seconds left in regulation to give Iowa State a 4-3 win in Champaign, Illinois.

As was the case in that series, both games in this series were tightly contested affairs in which no team had a real distinct talent advantage. This means that execution and making plays in key moments are pivotal in coming away with a win.

Members of the Cyclones will admit that they didn’t do that this weekend. However, instead of dwelling on the tough ways that they lost in this series, team members chose to see the losses as an opportunity for growth down the stretch. 

“It’s tough, but it builds us as a team and builds character, ” said senior goalie Matt Goedeke. “It gets us more prepared for those games later on when they matter more.”

That preparation could be tested before the post season even starts, as the Cyclones will have several games coming up in which the talent level is even and the team will likely have to execute in a big situation. 

This includes the next two weekends, when Lindenwood and Ohio, two teams that the Cyclones have split series with this season, come to town. 

While the team will have to finish better than they did this weekend in order to win those games, one aspect that bodes well for the Cyclones going forward is their effort in the two games.

Fairman has mentioned over the last few weeks that the team’s effort has been improving, and this weekend was no different. Players were also happy with how the team played and fought, especially after losing their leading scorer in Tony Uglem to injury in Friday night’s game.

“I thought that the team mentally took [the loss of Uglem] well,” said freshman forward Dylan Goggin. “The effort was there tonight. Guys were working hard, back checking well and picking up sticks in front. We did a lot of little things right.”

Fairman previously stated that Uglem should be fine, which would be a big boost for a team that, despite being swept this weekend, has shown considerable improvement after ending the fall semester on a six-game losing streak.

Especially impressive about this improvement is who its come against. The Cyclones have played a gauntlet of a schedule as of late, with all eight games this semester coming against teams ranked in the top 10.

Being that battle-tested should bode well for the Cyclones going forward, especially come playoff time. If the team continues to improve at the rate that they have and learn from a tough series this weekend, Iowa State could quickly see themselves become the heart-breaker instead of the heartbroken.

For now, though, Fairman is taking things one game at a time and not looking ahead to any potential playoff match ups. Especially not with two top-five teams coming to town the next two weekends and a roster that still isn’t at full strength.

Still, Fairman did acknowledge that his team’s recent improvement and tough schedule could give them as good of a chance as anyone else to make some noise down the stretch. Especially considering the way that other teams have gone on late-season hot streaks in the past.

“The guys have battled and found a way to win, and I guess it’s a matter of if we do it on the right night or consecutive nights,” Fairman said.  “We could get hot and get a run, I’ve seen it done before.”