Cyclone Hockey faces toughest opponent yet

Luke Manderfeld

The Cyclone Hockey team has proven to be a stingy bunch over the course of the 2014-15 season.

After starting with a record of 6-8-3 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association through Nov. 16, the team has strung together a handful of wins to improve that mark to 11-9-5.

Part of the success has been extra motivation due to the team’s “It’s a new season” philosophy and players returning from injury.

The team has remained confident despite the injury bug and scoring struggles and it managed to tread water in the top-25 rankings all season. That patience paid off with the team going on a small hot streak, winning five of its last eight games.

Two of those wins came last weekend against Central States Collegiate Hockey League rival Illinois with 6-1 and 4-2 victories, pushing the Cyclones from last in the CSCHL to third.

But Cyclone Hockey’s toughest matchup may be just around the corner. Even with two big wins over a CSCHL team, the Cyclones now face off against another CSCHL rival, the No. 3 Ohio Bobcats.

“Everyone is good in our league, which doesn’t give us the opportunity to take a weekend off,” said Cyclone Hockey coach Jason Fairman. “This is going to be a big weekend. I think, in the guys’ minds in the locker room, that this is for real. We’ve played well against good opponents and then don’t do the same the next weekend, so this weekend will be important to show the guys that we can do this.”

The Bobcats have been on a hot streak of their own and a lengthy one at that.

Dating back to Nov. 1, Ohio has won 11 of its last 13 games, which catapulted the team from eighth to third in the ACHA rankings. In that streak, the Bobcats have won by a at least three goals on six occasions. They are recently coming off against a 1-1 split against the CSCHL leader, the Lindenwood Lions.

If the Cyclones want to truly make a push at the CSCHL crown and to grow their confidence, the matchup this weekend is a must-win.

“[The games] will be huge for us, especially if we can go on the road and get one or two wins,” said assistant captain Nate Percy. “If we win two, we will move up to second in the CSCHL, meaning we have gone from last [place] to second in two weeks. That’s a big move and we will definitely be ready to play this weekend.”

Even with a rivalry in effect, the physicality may be pushed further by the fact that the University of Ohio’s Ice Arena, also known as Bird Arena, has slightly smaller dimensions than a standard ice hockey rink.

The NHL standard for ice rinks is 200 by 85 feet, and the Bird Arena comes in at 190 feet by 85 feet. It is only a 10-foot difference, but that difference has the ability to change the pace of a game.

“[Bird Arena] does feel a little smaller, and those distances add up when you take it the length of the ice,” said assistant captain Antti Helanto. “Even if it’s this much smaller you have just a little less ice to work with. Being physical is going to be big, and we have been working on it in practice all week, so we feel ready.”

Following an Illinois series where tensions were raised, the Cyclones will be ready for anything against another CSCHL rival.

“Anything can happen, we have to be ready for anything,” Helanto said. “Sometimes some trash-talk gets involved, sometimes guys don’t agree on a call or some words are exchanged, but we will be ready.”

Cyclone Hockey will take on the Ohio Bobcats at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 16-17 at Bird Arena in Athens, Ohio.