Tourney Time: Cyclone Hockey prepares for national tournament


Senior Antti Helanto recovers the puck after Midland University takes a shot on Feb. 28. The final score was 13-0.

Luke Manderfeld

After an up-and-down 42-game season, Cyclone Hockey has the biggest tournament of the year right in front of it — and it may be feeling a little déjà vu.

The 10th-seeded Cyclones (23-13-6) will face the seventh-seeded Oklahoma Sooners (25-8-0) in their first game of the 2015 American Collegiate Hockey Association National Tournament — the same team that eliminated the Cyclones a year ago.

The Cyclones, a No. 10 seed in the 2014 tournament as well, defeated the seventh-seeded Ohio Bobcats to move on to the quarterfinals against the Sooners. The Sooners, a No. 2 seed, defeated the Cyclones 3-1 to move into the semifinals.

It may be safe to say that the Cyclones want some payback.

“Last year, we were so good in the first two periods that I felt we didn’t get the outcome we deserved,” said assistant captain Antti Helanto. “This time we get a chance at some payback in the first round. I think some guys are really excited. It’s for sure going to be a good game with two really good teams going at it.”

The team is coming off a season-high, 13-goal performance against the Midland Warriors on senior night, which has helped them regain some mojo on the scoring end of the ice — a facet of the game the team has struggled with this season.

In part because of the breakout performance, the Cyclones seem to be in higher spirits and more relaxed in preparation for the tournament.

“For the first time, guys are in a more positive mood,” Helanto said. “We are just a little more relaxed and loose with guys getting goals. When we get in that mode, we can beat anybody.”

The Sooners have gotten slightly more of the Cyclones this season, going 2-1-1 in the season series. Cyclone Hockey coach Jason Fairman said the team is looking to use that experience to get results this weekend.

Even with the history, the Cyclones realize that they just have to bring a good brand of hockey.

“We’ve beat them before,” said forward Chase Rey, who had seven points in the Midland series. “We know what to expect and it’s really going to come down to playing our game to be honest.”

But the Sooners aren’t the only thing the Cyclones have to worry about.

With the way the ACHA organizes its bracket, the No. 1-4 seeds get an advantage over the rest of the pack. For starters, they get a day off between their second- and third-round encounters should they advance. Also, before the semifinals, the bracket is reseeded to pit the highest seed with the lowest seed. In the last three years, that advantage has been prevalent with a top-four team winning the tournament each time.

The bracket puts the Cyclones at a disadvantage throughout the playoffs. Most likely, if the Cyclones defeat the Sooners, they will have to take on No. 2-seeded Central Oklahoma, a team the Cyclones beat when Central Oklahoma was No. 2 in the nation. If they win that game, they will succumb to the reseeding in the semifinals, where they will likely play the top-seeded team at that point.

The best team in the semifinals could be the No. 1 Arizona State Sun Devils, a team that is making the move to NCAA Division I hockey next season and is the defending national title winners.

Although the team said it is a little early to think that far ahead, the Cyclones also can’t help but imagine the matchup against the top-ranked team.

“I think me and the team would like to play against [the Sun Devils]” Helanto said. “They have a great team. I’m like a child on Christmas Eve looking at that game. I’m really excited for it.”

The Cyclones haven’t made it to the semifinals since 2010, when the team lost in the championship game to Central States Collegiate Hockey League rival Lindenwood.

To make it back to that spot, the Cyclones will have to key in on some parts of their play.

“We have to try and stay out of the penalty box,” Fairman said. “We are a great 5-on-5 team. If we take bad penalties, it’s going to hurt us. If we play the way we can play every shift, we can beat anybody.”

The first game of the tournament for the Cyclones against the Sooners is scheduled for 12 p.m. March. 7 at John Carroll University.

Here is a look at the 2015 ACHA National Tournament bracket.