As if there wasn't enough pressure to perform after Friday night's energetic yet lackluster 5-0 loss for Iowa State, Saturday's action featured a maximum capacity crowd that included a lot of furry friends to cheer on the Cyclones.
On "Pucks and Paws" night, 2-legged and 4-legged creatures alike enjoyed a dandy of a game between the Cyclones of Iowa State and the Bronchos of Central Oklahoma. It ended in a 3-2 Bronchos win and sweep of the No. 24 ranked Cyclones, but Saturday's action was much more competitive than Friday.
It started very evenly; both teams produced their fair share of chances. They also split two penalties apiece, most of them happening with around six minutes left, but a four-on-four and a three-on-four in favor of the Bronchos resulted in a 0-0 draw after one.
Both teams were able to settle in, and the first period was a much more spirited one compared to Friday's, when Central Oklahoma scored very early. David Rutkowski and Blake Ramsey created a couple of very good chances for Iowa State in the period.
"The game was similar in some respects…from a territorial standpoint," said Head Coach Jason Fairman when asked how the two periods compared.
The second period was largely dominated by Central Oklahoma, scoring two goals about three minutes apart in the early stages of the middle frame. The first came on a seemingly fluke play out in front of the Cyclone net, and the second was a beautiful shot by Alex Durbeniuk that went 5-hole on Nikita Kozak. It's worth mentioning that Kozak played considerably better in Saturday's game, keeping his team in it.
With just over a minute remaining, the Cyclones got a power play opportunity off a boarding penalty on the Bronchos. Stuart Pearson set up Ray Zimmerman for a shot right out front, and for the first time all weekend, the Cyclones got a puck past the Bronchos goaltender. A much more advantageous position is 2-1 rather than 2-0, and the Cyclones had momentum going into the second intermission.
"It's huge, going to the locker room when you have a goal…you come back out, and it's definitely in reach then," said freshman forward Matty Moran about the goal in the waning moments.
The Cyclones knew they had to eliminate the penalties and sloppy play in order to get all the way back, but their journey was set back when Central Oklahoma set up a fairly open shot that led to a 3-1 lead six-and-half minutes in.
Some time went by with a penalty on the Bronchos squeezed in. And it was Moran who got a nice pass from Brooks Mitzel, and the Cyclones had life at 3-2 halfway through the third. Moran credited his teammates for setting him up with the scoring opportunity.
"My linemates were working their butt off; they got some room for me," Moran said.
The third period was highly physical compared to the first two, as the energy was ramping up and the crowd was getting into it more. That physicality reached its peak when Rutkowski and Jared Guffey of Central Oklahoma went to the box after some foul play in front of the Cyclone net after a save by Kozak.
A four-on-four is not where the Cyclones wanted to be, but a tripping penalty on Pearson for Iowa State was the biggest setback of them all. That gave the Bronchos a man advantage all the way until about a minute-and-a-half remaining, when they themselves got a tripping penalty. Fairman saw the opportunity and went 6-on-4 for the remainder of the game, setting up chance after chance that, ultimately, the Cyclones couldn't capitalize on.
The total amount of penalties was seven for each team throughout the game, but it was the ones that were late that really hurt the Cyclones' chances.
"We got to be disciplined, and we kind of got sucked into [the physicality] a little bit; we picked up more penalties than we usually do," Fairman said when asked if the physical third period helped or hindered the team.
Iowa State came into the evening with the least penalty minutes in the ACHA (192), but they surely did not leave the arena in that standing. On the flip side, Central Oklahoma is somewhere near the top five, with 582 minutes in the box.
It was in the Bronchos favor to get Iowa State to get lost in the physicality, as Iowa State statistically is least experienced on the penalty kill. The timing of the infractions, however, is really what was the death of the Cyclones and the reason Central Oklahoma came out of Ames with a sweep.
Iowa State outshot their opponent 38-31 for a weekend total of 78-56 for the weekend. It's evident by the shot totals alone that the Cyclones offensive opportunities were not the problem.
Ranked No. 24 in the ACHA rankings most likely means Iowa State would be on the outside looking into the ACHA playoffs, but the Cyclones had a chance to pick up wins against teams higher in the rankings than them. The Cyclones' schedule lightens up next weekend when they travel to Illinois to take on a 9-13 Robert Morris team, and then it's ranked opponents for the rest of the season. Iowa State will have two of those series at home (Ohio and Oklahoma).