The 2019-20 season did not go as planned for Cyclone Hockey.
In just the second time in its history, Cyclone Hockey (21-15-4) did not qualify for the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) national tournament — since canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
A total of 20 teams qualify for the tournament. The Cyclones found themselves ranked No. 19 in the final rankings that determined the qualifiers. Since two teams — Niagara University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania — won their respective conferences, they received automatic bid and were not in the top 20. This meant the top 18 teams qualified.
Cyclone Hockey ended up in 19th due to a lost tiebreaker for 17th to Calvin University and Arizona State University.
Despite not qualifying for the tournament, Head Coach and General Manager Jason Fairman sees the season’s successes.
“It was a rewarding season from a coaching standpoint to work with a bunch of players that were very coachable and worked very hard,” Fairman said. “There’s a lot of positive things that came from the season.”
Cyclone Hockey added Assistant Coach Brian Gibbons prior to the 2019-20 season. Fairman said Gibbons has been a great addition to the program.
“He and I had very similar philosophies, work ethic, and I’m very excited about what the future holds,” Fairman said.
Only four ACHA Division I teams averaged less than 10 penalty minutes per game. One of those four teams is Cyclone Hockey. Its 6.48 penalty minutes per game were the lowest in the ACHA the past season. It is the second straight season the Cyclones have recorded the least penalty minutes per game as they averaged 6.74 during the 2018-19 season.
This season also set the record for least penalty minutes per game in Fairman’s time as head coach of Cyclone Hockey.
The Cyclones recorded a total of 259 penalty minutes — second in ACHA Division I play behind Pittsburgh’s 254. They also finished the season with a penalty kill of 86.3 percent. Fairman said it is unusual for any team to have a penalty kill with that percentage.
“It was in the 90s most of the year,” Fairman said. “I don’t know where it is now, but it’s gotta be close to 90 still.
“That’s unheard of.”
Lack of goal scoring
The team’s ability to score goals was a challenge Fairman identified before the season started, and he said it ended up playing out how he thought it would.
“The goal scoring did impact us, and I don’t have an explanation for it,” Fairman said. “It was unusual that we were so challenged from a goal-scoring point.”
The Cyclones averaged 2.4 goals per game the past season — the lowest in the Fairman era. The goals per game have ranged between 2.83 and 4.35 in previous years.
Cyclone Hockey outshot its opponents 1476-1234 on the season. In 10 of their 19 regular season series, the Cyclones had more shots in both games of the series and registered more shots than their opponents in 26 of the 40 games.
Several times throughout the season Fairman said finishing chances was the problem, not the chance creation itself.
One example of that was the series on Feb. 7-8. The Cyclones outshot Robert Morris Illinois 95-53 over the two games but lost by scores of 0-1 and 2-5.
“I don’t know what the narrative would be from the team as a whole,” Fairman said. “I think it would be a team that just had trouble scoring but did a lot of other things very well.”
With Cyclone Hockey missing the national tournament by one spot, Fairman pointed out key missteps at the beginning and end of the season.
“We had some bad losses against some teams that are usually pretty decent that turned out to not have very good years,” Fairman said. “Those first three weekends may have sealed our fate.”
In the first three weeks of the season, the Cyclones lost one game to Missouri State and Illinois State. They beat Waldorf in overtime, but this counted as a tie in the computer rankings.
Fairman said the team controlled its own destiny and cited the games against Robert Morris Illinois on Feb. 7-8 as some of many missed opportunities.
“If we would’ve won one of those games, we’d be in nationals,” Fairman said.
Another misstep Fairman pointed out was the game on Feb. 23 at the No. 3 Lindenwood Lions.
The Cyclones took a 2-1 lead late in the second period. They fought off a 5-on-3 early in the third to keep the lead. Lindenwood went on to score at 15:35 to force overtime. The Lions ended up winning after a nine-round shootout.
Fairman said playing one team is not necessarily an indication of the progress and said Lindenwood, along with the other conference foes, commented on the progress the Cyclones made throughout the year. Fairman agreed and thought the Cyclones could win some games in the postseason.
“I think a lot of teams would’ve been nervous if they played us at nationals,” Fairman said.
A part of history
On March 7, 2020, Cyclone Hockey etched its name into college hockey history. The Cyclones faced off against the Lindenwood Lions in the semifinals of the Central States Collegiate Hockey League (CSCHL) playoffs. The game started at 4 p.m. and ended roughly seven hours later during the fifth overtime. The 157 minutes and 13 seconds of play made it the longest game in college hockey history in the NCAA and ACHA.
Last night’s game has been verified and officiallly becomes the longest game in college hockey (@ncaa and @achahockey). The game-winning goal was scored at 17:18 of the fifth overtime.#cyclonehockey #neverenough #ISUvLU @CSCHLHockey #playoffhockey https://t.co/YKyZdsHY1f— Cyclone Hockey (@CycloneHockey) March 8, 2020
Due to playoff rules, a shootout could not decide the game. With the score at 4-4 after regulation, the teams played 20-minute overtime periods until a goal was scored.
Before the game, Fairman addressed the team and talked about how the season would be remembered when players met up in the future. They had hoped for a different outcome before that piece of history took place.
“I hope that it’s to say that we won a CSCHL championship,” Fairman said. “And now, they’ll probably talk about playing the longest game in college hockey history — unfortunately we lost.”
The Cyclones return a majority of the team as just four seniors — Dylan Goggin, Nikita Kozak, David Rutkowski and Bryan Bandyk — graduate based on the active roster at the end of the season.
Goggin finished the season with the second most goals on the team. The other five top goal scorers — Ray Zimmerman, Max Kamper, Payton McSharry, Stuart Pearson and Matty Moran — all return for the 2020-21 season. Zimmerman is the only one of that bunch who was not a freshman this past season.
With Kozak’s departure from the Cyclone net, it is the second straight season the starting goalie is graduating. Freshman goalie Aaron LaChance played in five games the past season. He posted a 3-2 record — with a regulation and overtime win at then No. 12 Illinois — and recorded 113 saves with 12 goals against for a save percentage of 90.4.
Fairman said the spot for next season is wide open.
“Whether it’s our existing player or one of our recruits, obviously, it’ll be a new guy so we’re telling people that the goaltending position is up for grabs for whoever wants to earn it,” Fairman said.
Another change for the upcoming season is the coaching staff. Cyclone Hockey recently added a new assistant coach, Shaun Gibbons — younger brother of current Assistant Coach Brian Gibbons.
Shaun Gibbons joins Cyclone Hockey by way of ACHA Division II member Utah State University. Fairman is excited about the coaching staff and is optimistic about the future.
“Not to suggest that I haven’t enjoyed my other assistants, some have been better than others, but I really like our staff right now with the three of us,” Fairman said. “We enjoy each other’s company.”
The scope of Cyclone Hockey goes beyond playing the game, and Fairman saw success in all areas this past season.
“Every season is unique,” Fairman said. “This one may have been more than others in a number of ways as it was frustrating on a lot of levels but very satisfying on a lot of levels. If I had to score it, it was definitely a good season. Although maybe not finishing how we had hoped but to have the culture we have and from on the ice product to how guys are in the classroom and how they are as citizens, we’re very proud of that, so I think it was a great success as far as that goes.”