By Jared Bravard, @JaredBravard
Despite cancellations and postponements, the Division I Cyclones were still able to play 26 games this season, including two Central State Collegiate Hockey League (CSCHL) conference tournament games and two games at the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division I National Tournament.
Head Coach Jason Fairman said every team had to deal with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic but anytime the Cyclones gained a little momentum, a postponement or gap between games occurred.
“It was a challenge. COVID impacted us like it did every other entity in the world, and I know it was similar to other teams we played,” Fairman said. “We had some cancellations that weren’t exactly in our favor from a timely standpoint. It was hard to get in the groove when you have a couple weeks off and then you’ve got to play a game.”
Due to the schedule changes and many ACHA teams delaying the start of their seasons to January, Iowa State played eight games in October. The Cyclones swept Jamestown and Waldorf to open the season before splitting a series on the road with Indiana Tech — the eventual No. 7 seed at the national tournament. The Cyclones then swept the Midland Warriors on Oct. 30-31. The Warriors and Cyclones were scheduled to play again on Nov. 14-15, but the games were canceled due to COVID-19 protocols. The Cyclones took their 7-1 record into the extended winter break and did not play another game until Jan. 8.
“We had a really good first half of the season. We had a lot of excitement and a lot of energy,” Fairman said. “We played really well, and I thought the prospects were very good for the second half of the season. With that two-month break, it was like we were starting all over again. I don’t know that we had the same energy and enthusiasm that we showed at the beginning of the year.”
The second semester ended up having multiple gaps between games. After playing Missouri State on Jan. 8-9, the Cyclones had a week off before playing the Ice Bears again. Iowa State then had two weekends without a game before playing Minot State on Feb. 12-13. After playing Lindenwood the following weekend, the Cyclones had another weekend off before playing Lindenwood again.
“The players did a good job of staying positive and being understanding of the situation,” Fairman said. “We were fortunate that occurred.”
The second Lindenwood series kicked off the full slate of March games as the Cyclones played games every weekend of that month. March ended with the round robin CSCHL tournament between Iowa State, Lindenwood and Ohio. The Cyclones then qualified for the national tournament and played their next game on April 17.
As the No. 8 seed, Iowa State played No. 9 Aquinas in the opening round. The Cyclones picked up a 5-3 win before losing to No. 1 Adrian College — the eventual tournament champion — in the quarterfinals.
“It was very important to put players in those types of situations and I do think there’s some value in that,” Fairman said of making the national tournament with such a young team. “Hopefully that’ll pay off next season.”
Two Cyclones received recognition for their performances at the national tournament. Forward C.J. Banser and defenseman Ryan Nelson were both named to the Honorable Mention All-Tournament Team.
Due to the pandemic, the team could not use the locker room. Players had to dress, spaced appropriately, in the rink’s lobby or outdoors. Not being able to be together like normal affected the team, according to Fairman.
“One of our strengths is the culture of our program. It was hard to set that when we weren’t able to use the locker room,” Fairman said. “[…] The camaraderie wasn’t developed like it would have during a normal season.”
The Cyclones ended the season with a 14-10-2 record. They finished with 105 goals for (4.04 per game) and 83 goals against (3.19 per game). Ray Zimmerman, who led the team with 32 points (19-13–32), was one of six Cyclones to play in all 26 games.
Of the 24 players on the Division I roster by the end of the year, 13 of them were freshmen. The team had just three graduating seniors. Even though next season’s roster is long from being set with normal upward and downward movement along with recruiting, Fairman is optimistic that the team will be back at the elite level of the ACHA.
“I think we need to fill and address some holes in our lineup and we plan to do that,” Fairman said.