There’s a reason Canada is often referred to as the “birthplace of hockey.”
The hockey market in Iowa doesn’t even remotely compare to the hockey market in Canada, but that doesn’t stop great Canadian players from coming here to play.
The Division I Cyclone Hockey team has three Canadian players on its roster, two of which are new to the team this year.
“I was on the fence until I came down to visit and saw how beautiful the campus was, how nice the people were in the Midwest,” said freshman forward Robbie McLean, from Okotoks, Alberta, Canada. “I was hooked right away, and knew it was the place for me.”
McLean spent the past four seasons playing in the HJHL, or the Heritage Junior Hockey League, with the Okotoks Bisons.
He’s now majoring in finance and minoring in economics here at Iowa State while he continues to play for the Cyclones.
Something that the Cyclone Hockey Canadian players have in common is their view on Iowa, and specifically, Iowa State’s campus.
“I was more excited, so [the decision to come here] was pretty easy. Especially after I saw the campus, it was a place I really wanted to come to,” said senior defenseman Nick Sandy, from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “So as soon as I visited, it was pretty much set in stone that I wanted to be here.”
Sandy moved to Saskatchewan after high school to play junior hockey for a year and a half. After getting traded to Manitoba, he finished out his junior career there, before deciding to continue his education and hockey career here at Iowa State.
He’s now majoring in supply chain management, and is finishing up his last year as a Cyclone.
“It’s been awesome. I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Sandy said of his Cyclone Hockey experience. “I’m sad that it’s coming to an end.”
But it's not just players coming to Cyclone Hockey from Canada. Scott Ismond, a former Cyclone Hockey goaltender from 2010 to 2015, is now the Division II head coach.
Ismond, also a native of Calgary, Alberta, played his juniors in British Columbia. He played mainly in two leagues: The VIJHL, or the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, and the PJHL, or the Pacific Junior Hockey League.
After doing his campus visit in 2010, he knew this was the right place for him, too.
“This was an opportunity to go to a great institution, get a great degree and also continue to play high-level hockey,” Ismond said.
Ismond double-majored in public relations and speech communication, and made the transition directly from player to coach within the Cyclone Hockey organization.
He began as an assistant coach behind the bench of what was then the Division III team, and worked his way up to the head coaching position of what is now the Division II team.
Having worked his way up to senior instructor at a company called World Pro Goaltending back in Canada, coaching was not new to him. However, it still proved to be a bit of a transition, going from player to coach.
“Being a goaltender, I think you have a unique perspective because you get to see the play unfold,” Ismond said. “So that really helped me in the development and transition to become a coach of a team.”
Another transition these Canadians had to make was finding a home at Iowa State.
After playing juniors, they all learned to do everything that came with living on their own. However, it is still a new place with new people. Luckily, Iowa State has made the transition fairly easy on these young guys.
“Hockey guys are hockey guys across the board, they’re usually pretty good and pretty welcoming,” McLean said. “Our team’s pretty tight-knit, and I was able to find a home real quick.”
Although, there is one thing that they all agree they miss from home: Tim Hortons, a popular Canadian coffee and donuts fast food restaurant.
Ismond said every year when the team travels to Ohio, they stop at the Tim Hortons there and spend quite a bit of money.
It’s become a tradition, and one that they hold very dear in their hearts.
“Yeah, it’s a big deal,” Sandy said.
Besides the lack of Tim Hortons here in Iowa, they all can agree it’s been a great place to call their home away from home. So every 22-hour drive they take to get from Alberta to Iowa is well worth it.