Jason Fairman sits in the igloo room at the ISU/Ames Ice Arena and gazes to his left out toward a few dozen students on the ice participating in an ice skating course provided by Iowa State.
Some skaters stumble, while others stand at center ice laughing on their phones with the instructor looking on.
“I’m just curious what they do for that class,” Fairman mutters.
In a matter of minutes, Fairman will be on the ice as the instructor for his Cyclone Hockey students, but for now he waits. In his office, the wall directly across from Fairman is a mirror from top to bottom.
It shows the reflection of the Cyclone Hockey head coach decked out in his dark grey Cyclone Hockey sweatshirt underneath his black winter coat. A red team winter cap covers his head as the two-year anniversary of becoming the head coach of Cyclone Hockey approaches within the coming days.
But Fairman never thought he would be sitting in this position, not only as the coach of one of the top teams in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, but even coaching hockey at all.
When Fairman was a player, initially at Denver before transferring to Cornell of the Ivy League and eventually overseas to Norway, he didn’t imagine being where he is now, working 18 hours per day, seven days a week.
Balancing the weight of more than 200 people in an organization as the general manager and head coach of Cyclone Hockey would be challenging for anyone. Now add his time spent in the classroom while he gets his doctorate in educational leadership on top of his Cyclone Hockey duties.
“I’ve had taxing times in my life where I have to economize my time,” Fairman said. “This is certainly one of the most challenging times in my life.”
His family and peers expected him to go into law because of his “silver tongue," but he never had the passion for it. He had other goals he wanted to achieve, goals that he’s still trying to figure out.
For a time, his goals were to go into business, which he did for a while at separate times in his life. At other times, his goals were to play professionally for an extended period of time, which seemed like a real possibility were it not for a nagging groin injury he suffered his freshman year at Denver.
But his goals are now focused on his team and continuing to improve in the win column and beyond.
“I just want Cyclone Hockey to be the best program it could possibly be and represent Iowa State in the best way it can,” Fairman said. “I want good hockey players, but I also want good students and good citizens.”
Two years have passed since Cyclone Hockey players came to practice on a Tuesday in the middle of November and were subtly informed that the founder of Cyclone Hockey and coach for the previous 43 years, Al Murdoch, had retired mid-season.
Fairman was in his first year with the team as an assistant coach and was elected to fill the void at head coach.
“I think that the entire organization was ready to switch gears and head in a new direction,” said junior Chase Rey, who was a freshman on the team at the time of the coaching change.
Two days later, the team boarded a plane and flew down to Arizona to play the Arizona Wildcats in Fairman’s first series as head coach. It was the Wildcats' “Teddy Bear Weekend,” meaning that the fans would throw a teddy bear onto the ice for charity after Arizona scored.
The Cyclones shut out the Wildcats on both nights, earning Fairman’s first two wins as well as the game puck as he made sure no fuzzy, stuffed animals made their way onto the ice.
The Cyclones went on to finish the season with a 36-10-4 record, the best record for the team in 15 years. A new era was beginning for Cyclone Hockey with Fairman at the helm.
In the last two years, Fairman has accomplished his fair share of impressive accomplishments. He has finished the season ranked in the top 10 both seasons, scored the top recruit and top recruiting class in the ACHA and allowed the fewest goals in team history.
Fairman is a detailed-oriented coach and says he believes that success will come if all of the small details add up correctly. He wants to limit mistakes and places an emphasis on winning every shift individually.
“I think he does a good job of getting every player to be on the same page, regardless of what the system is,” said co-captain Cory Sellers.
Despite the success he has already enjoyed, Fairman said he is still two years away from getting the program where he wants it — the best it can possibly be.
“He’s a go-getter,” Rey said. “When he wants something, he’s not afraid to go for it.”
Fairman can be seen and heard throughout the arena, expressing his displeasure with the referees during the course of games. His stern looks have been known to intimidate, and as a coach, he has taken over the role as a serious, no-nonsense guy.
But he hasn’t always been this way. He even said that in his group of friends who he has known for years, he is considered the jokester.
“I’m the cut up of my group,” Fairman said. “I bet if you ask most guys around the program, they wouldn’t think that. I wear a different hat, and there is a different side of my personality that comes out being the head coach that you wouldn’t see in my personal life.”
It is often a fine line to walk as a coach between being friends with players and still demanding respect on the ice. As players continue through the program and onto a life after hockey, the bond starts to strengthen between player and coach.
“From being freshmen to now being juniors and seniors, he’s definitely more personable and wants to have that relationship with you,” Rey said.
The ice skating class finishes, and the mirror across from Fairman reflects the man responsible for Cyclone Hockey success on nearly all levels. What the mirror doesn’t show is the responsibility Fairman has heaped on his shoulders.
That weight is not only the current day-to-day operations of the program but also the maintenance of the legacy that more than 1,500 former Cyclone Hockey players carry around with them to this day.
“There are a lot of different experiences and lessons that someone can gain from Cyclone Hockey,” Fairman said. “The older you get ,the more reflective you are, and I hope when these guys are older they will look back and say, 'That was a good era for me.’”
Sellers said that as he got older, it was easier to see the other side of Fairman. The side that shows despite the 18 hours spent thinking about hockey every day, there might be more to this gig than the game.
A quote came to Fairman’s mind that has stuck with him: Coaches are often measured by wins and losses, but they should be measured by how many weddings they are invited to.
“I’ve got a few under my belt,” Fairman said.