The path back to the ACHA Championship has not been easy for the Cyclones. This weekend, it will continue with Minot State, the team that concluded Cyclone Hockey's 2018 campaign in the championship game last March.

The Beavers come in with an impressive 7-1-2 record and are ranked fourth in this week's rankings, while the Cyclones are hovering around .500 at 8-7-1 and are ranked 15th.

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Cyclone Hockey's Jake Joyaux and a player from the University of Illinois race to the puck. Iowa State faced University of Illinois on Nov. 8.

The team isn't looking at this as a particularly significant bump in the road, but that's partly due to the fact that over half the team wasn't there to experience it last year.

"There's a little carry-over, but we have so many new guys, I don't know if that means as much to them as it might to the returners," said coach Jason Fairman when asked about the emotions going into this weekend.

Whether or not emotions are lingering since last year is not as important as making sure they're locked in this weekend, particularly stopping the Beaver's offensive attack. Minot State has procured nine, eight and a couple of seven-goal outings so far this season.

The Cyclones still have senior goaltender Nikita Kozak making plays left and right for the team. He will be a defining factor in whether or not the team finds success this weekend.

"[Kozak] has kept us close, and he's given us a chance to start playing well and win the game," said junior Ray Zimmerman.

Kozak has needed to be solid so far this season in part because Cyclone Hockey lost a lot of scoring that helped propel them last year, and because the team has had difficulty finding the back of the net with consistency so far this season compared to last.

One area in particular where the Cyclones have had trouble offensively, especially recently, has been on the man advantage. They have had an abundance of opportunities the last two weekends, but have not scored on any of them.

"We have to finish our chances; everyone in the locker room knows that," Fairman said. "We're solid in every area of the game except for scoring goals, and that's going to carry over into the power play."  

Cyclone Hockey has certainly shown that it can hang around with some of the higher-caliber teams in the ACHA, splitting with now-12th ranked Illinois and sweeping a strong Jamestown team, handing them two of their three losses last month in Ames.

The Cyclones' most recent offensive outburst came in a 3-0 win against Illinois last weekend, with all three of the goals being scored by freshmen.

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Brian Bandyk of Cyclone Hockey races University of Illinois player Tyler Opilka to the puck. Iowa State hockey faced University of Illinois on Nov. 8.

"We're very pleased with the freshman group we have — they're a fun group to coach, and I think the only thing they need is experience," Fairman said. "Hopefully once they get that they will be able to score more goals."

A breakout performance by anyone, freshmen included, would be a welcome sight for Fairman and his team as they look to pick up crucial wins in North Dakota on Friday and Saturday.

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