Cyclone Hockey presented with strategic top-five matchup


Iowa State senior forward Alex Stephens watches for the puck for a face-off during the game against Illinois State Saturday night. The Cyclones would go on to beat the Redbirds 6-3.

Ben Visser

Hockey is a physical sport known for big hits, bodies getting slammed into the boards and, of course, fights.

However, the game might look different this weekend as No. 3 Cyclone Hockey plays No. 2 Lindenwood in a top-three matchup. The weekend series will more closely resemble a chess game than the average hockey game would.

There will be some physicality and some hits, but those will be strategic hits.

“They’re going to use their body, but it’s more positioning than trying to really hit you,” said senior forward Jake Bruhn. “They’re very strategic. They know where to be, so it’s a lot of body positioning and stick positioning.”

Cyclone Hockey coach Jason Fairman is detail oriented and prides himself on his team’s discipline. The Cyclones have played games against Lindenwood in the past in which they haven’t been whistled for a single penalty.

Discipline will be of the utmost importance this weekend because of Lindenwood’s ability to capitalize on power-play opportunities, senior forward Alex Stephens said. But if the Cyclones do receive a penalty, they’ll need to kill it consistently if they want to get the win.

“Both teams are going to have to be good on the penalty kill,” Stephens said. “We know from past seasons that their team can score on the power play, but we’ve proved that our team can too. Penalty kills are going to be huge for both teams.”

Lindenwood coach Rick Zombo has an impressive pedigree, playing in the National Hockey League for a dozen years.

Fairman said people who play at the highest level usually don’t make great coaches, but Zombo is an exception.

“Their coach is good,” Fairman said. “We’ve had some great games where we’ve both remarked how fun it is, because it’s a little bit like a chess match. We’ve had some great games [with Lindenwood] since I’ve been here.”

The Cyclones carry 13 rookies on the roster, so a top-three matchup against a team that doesn’t make too many mistakes could cause some issues. Luckily for the Cyclones, this isn’t their first big series of the year.

They swept defending national champion Central Oklahoma on the road and went 0-1-1 against then-No. 2 Ohio.

After the second Ohio game, during which the Cyclones lost in an shootout, Fairman said the Cyclones and Bobcats were the two best teams in the country.

Just because Cyclone Hockey has been through big weekends before doesn’t mean this one isn’t just as big — if not bigger.

“Obviously [this weekend] is huge,” Stephens said. “Not only for our two teams, but any time you get a top-three matchup in the nation, I think other teams will take notice of the results too. It’s huge weekend for sure.”

Because it’s such a big weekend against an execution-oriented team, the little aspects of the game will be crucial.

“[Lindenwood is] very system oriented, and they execute it to a ‘T,’ so we are going to have to match that for sure,” Stephens said. “Definitely going to have to bring the intensity, we’re going to need the effort — crashing nets, taking a body. We are going to have to bring it all.”

When the penalty box is unoccupied, Fairman expects a lot of the game to be played in the neutral zone. Each team will be waiting for the other to make the key mistake so it can capitalize. 

“Usually, there are a lot of chess matches [against them],” Bruhn said. “They’re 2-1, 3-2 games. A lot of goals come off of mistakes. You can’t get too aggressive, but, at the same time, you can’t sit back too much either. You kind of have to wait. Sometimes it gets a little boring for lack of a better word, but at the same time you don’t want to make a mistake.”