Dominance of Cyclone Hockey is just beginning

Sophomore defenseman Kody Reuter and senior forward Jake Bruhn wait for the puck to drop at the game on Jan. 29. The cyclones lost 2 to 4.

Austin Anderson

The clock didn’t strike midnight.

It struck 9:11 p.m. at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville, Ill., when the scoreboard read 0:00 for Cyclone Hockey in the American Collegiate Hockey League National Championship game in a 2-1 loss against Lindenwood.

Yes, Cyclone Hockey beat three teams with better seeds in the ACHA Tournament, including the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country. This team can be called an underdog maybe, but this group was far from a Cinderella.

The success of the team hindered a lot on the play of the young players in the organization. The top three scorers were all freshmen. The two defensemen who were named to the Central States Collegiate Hockey League All-Defensive Team were sophomores. In total, nine freshmen played some role on the team.

The Cyclones were young and talented but at times the inexperience showed.

The Cyclones came in as the No. 9 seed, had been bounced in their first game of the Central States Collegiate Hockey League Tournament in their home arena, their fifth loss of the season against Ohio, and lost against a junior college team in the middle of the season.

“I think if you ask anyone who is familiar with our league, I think they would’ve written us off,” said co-captain Alex Stephens. “‘They’re too young or they didn’t have enough this or that.’”

For the lapses at times during the season, there were just as many bright spots. Cyclone Hockey swept the 2015 national champions on the road and the No. 2 team at home. The Cyclones also handed the No. 1 team in the country its first regulation loss of the season.

So despite being the lower ranked team in all four of Cyclone Hockey’s games in the ACHA tournament, it wasn’t a surprise to the Cyclones when they knocked off the No. 8, No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country on their way to the championship game against league rival, No. 3 Lindenwood.

“If you were to ask anybody 10 months ago if we would be playing for a national championship, I think a lot of people would have said ‘absolutely not,’” said co-captain Cory Sellers. “I think we surprised a lot of people. We did what a lot of people thought we couldn’t do.”

From the first day of tryouts, nobody within the organization was shy about the goal for the season.

Cyclone Hockey wanted to win the national championship.

Seven months later, the national championship is exactly where the Cyclones found themselves, thanks in large part to a goaltender, Derek Moser, who only allowed five goals in four games during the tournament.

The Cyclones grabbed the lead in the opening period Tuesday night but couldn’t hold onto it, falling by just one goal in the final game of the ACHA season and the seniors’ hockey careers.

“It’s hard to say how you feel when you realize that you’re not going to play another game again,” Sellers said. “It’s an experience that I will be able to look back on for the rest of my life and say I was apart of a team that came this far.

“It’s something I’ll remember forever.”

Sellers, Stephens and Jake Bruhn combined to play more than 200 games for Cyclone Hockey. Tuesday night was their last.

“The seniors have been tremendous,” said Cyclone Hockey Coach Jason Fairman. “The seniors have to lead and set an example. They set the culture for these young guys.”

The Cyclones made it to the championship game relying on the production of underclassmen, and next year, Cyclone Hockey will return 85 percent of its scoring. It will also start the year with the experience of a deep run in the national tournament.

“Being so close, guys will have the hunger next year,” Fairman said. “We’re not going to just talk about winning a national championship but we’re going to expect to win a national championship.”