Before Alex Stephens was a co-captain and getting ready to play in the biggest game of his college career that also happens to be the final game of his college career, he approached the American Collegiate Hockey League Tournament differently.
As a freshman, sophomore and junior, Stephens wasn’t thinking how great he would feel if the Cyclones won a national championship, he was thinking about doing everything he could do to make sure the seniors got a chance to experience that feeling.
“I wanted to win it for the guys who were playing their last game,” Stephens said.
Now four years have passed since Stephens arrived on campus in Ames. After beating Stony Brook 2-1 in the semi-final Sunday night to advance to the championship game against Lindenwood, there is one thing that is undeniable: Stephens will play his final game in the Cardinal and Gold on Monday night.
“I guess we’re asking the younger guys to do it for us now,” Stephens said. “Everybody wants it.”
To get to the championship game, Cyclone Hockey first had to knock off the flashy, speedy Stony Brook Seawolves.
Once again the Cyclones were led by goaltender Derek Moser who stopped 23 of 24 shots he faced. For the tournament, Moser has allowed only three goals in three games. Against the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, he has allowed only a single goal which came on a 5-on-3 power play advantage for Stony Brook.
“He’s been phenomenal,” said Cyclone Hockey coach Jason Fairman. “That’s how you win a national championship, with the kind of goaltending we’re getting.”
The defense has been solid as Moser acknowledged but there were multiple one-on-one opportunities against Moser where he came up clutch with stops, limiting the Seawolves to just a single goal.
“It’s not just me out there,” Moser said. “As a team we only allowed one goal.”
Stony Brook pulled its goaltender with one minute remaining in the game, but Cyclone Hockey continued to be strong defensively and closed out the win.
Stephens and his teammates raced over to form a celebratory huddle near their tournament star, Moser.
“I wouldn’t lie, I was relieved,” Stephens said. “They brought the pressure in the third but we did what we needed to do.”
As time expired, Fairman said the first thing that went through his mind was, “How do we get ready for tomorrow?”
Cyclone Hockey had to wait to see who it would be playing in the championship game between No. 3 Lindenwood and No. 5 Davenport.
After beating the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country in back-to-back nights, Cyclone Hockey will face Central States Collegiate Hockey League rival No. 3 Lindenwood in a rematch of the 2010 ACHA championship game, which Lindenwood won, 2-0.
The Cyclones won the first three matchups of the year, all by a single goal. In the fourth meeting, the Cyclones surrendered the lead and CSCHL regular season title with :12 remaining before losing in a shootout.
“We know it’s going to be a tight game,” Fairman said. “Every game we’ve played Lindenwood, every one, has been a close game.
“I suppose it’s fitting that we will be playing them for the national title with the highest stakes ever on the line.”