Cyclone Hockey moves forward with focus on Redbirds

The Iowa State hockey team played Missouri State on Sept. 27.

Zach Martin

Each weekend series, Cyclone Hockey is looking to build off what happened the two games prior.

The approach doesn’t change, despite the opponent.

This opponent, Illinois State, is a unique one.

In their first road series of the season, the Cyclones will face a Redbirds squad which, despite not making the ACHA postseason, has the Cyclones’ attention.

“They’re much improved,” said head coach Jason Fairman. “We’ve had a formula preparing for our conference play; Illinois State I expect to be better. This game is designed for Lindenwood and those type of teams. We’re going to have our work cut out; It’s tough to play on the road.”

Through four games, Illinois State has looked the part.

Much like the third-ranked Cyclones, the Redbirds split with 14th-ranked Missouri State in their season-opening series, after getting swept by Illinois.

A deeper look shows why senior goalie Nikita Kozak isn’t looking past the team based in Bloomington, Illinois.

Illinois State went to overtime against the Illini on Friday then took a 2-1 lead on Saturday, giving up two goals to trail 3-2 before netting a game-tying goal in the third period.

The Redbirds are led by Daniel Sarnecki, who has five goals — four against Missouri State — and an assist on the season. Through four games, eight different players have found the back of the net.

“Our team does not [take] any weekend for granted,” Kozak said. “I definitely think it’s still going to be a challenge for us.”

It’s the last unranked opponent Iowa State will face in a while. It presents a chance for Cyclone Hockey to bury chances it missed against Missouri State and capitalize on mistakes.

“The schedule doesn’t let up, so we’ll have to come up with an answer to that,” Fairman said. “I have to think, eventually, the numbers will be in our favor.”

Fairman said he was concerned that his team would let one loss hinder what has been a successful 3-1 start to the season.

At practice and in the locker room, Kozak sees only positivity.

“I would say […] the result of Saturday’s game definitely was unfortunate, but we were fired up,” Kozak said. “Hopefully, that energy we have in practice can carry into our weekend series.”

Even though it’s a low concern, Fairman did state possible distractions for his team before the puck drops tonight at 7 p.m. inside the Grossinger Motors Arena.

Some of the players on the Cyclones’ team are from Illinois, meaning they’ll be able to see their families for possibly the first time since coming to Ames.

“It’s a low concern, we can overcome that,” Fairman said. “We’re worried about trying to get systems, special plays, forechecks, back checks, now add a little extra, first road trip and seeing them for the first time.”

Kozak shared no concern, embracing the roles he and other veteran leaders have of showing the younger guys how road trips works.

“Our young guys are very mature,” Kozak said. “I don’t think seeing their parents would be a distraction.”