By Jared Bravard, @JaredBravard
Cyclone Hockey is accustomed to having two teams, but this year a third team was added to the mix. Due to the influx of players into the program, the Division III team formed.
Head Coach Jason Fairman wanted to give all players — current and new — the opportunity to play this season.
“We’ve been fortunate that we have a lot of student-athletes that want to come to our program,” Fairman said. “With only two teams, there would’ve been a lot of very good hockey players that wouldn’t have been able to play hockey this past year. We knew we’d be competitive adding a Division III team and that played out.”
Last year’s Division II team essentially became this season’s Division III team. The bond that the team shared helped the season turn out, according to Fairman. With COVID-19 protocols and a different locker room situation, the existing bond of the players aided the team’s mindset.
“I think that helped with setting the culture and expectations of how we play, and I think that allowed the team to have that success that they did during the season even with the COVID challenges,” Fairman said.
Due to the pandemic, not as many Division III teams played at the beginning of the season. Fairman said it was very tough to find opponents for the Division III team early on. After one exhibition game in the fall, the Division III team’s season officially started with games on Jan. 29-30 against Missouri State.
After a 0-2-1 start, the Cyclones won nine of their next 10 games to finish 9-3-1. The team picked up wins against Missouri State, Dallas Baptist and Division II Bethel along with sweeps against Dordt (twice) and Marian.
Due to the shortened season and fewer teams playing, the first Division III rankings did not come out until March 5. The Cyclones sat at the eighth spot in the initial rankings. In the second rankings on March 19, the Cyclones were ninth before jumping back up to No. 8 on March 26. The final rankings for the national tournament came out on March 31. The Cyclones finished No. 9, just one spot from qualifying for the eight-team American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division III National Tournament.
Fairman was disappointed the team, especially the seniors, did not have a chance to showcase itself at nationals. He felt the team was deserving of a spot at the tournament.
“I’ve heard from a number of people on the national level that it was a travesty,” Fairman said. “The Division III team certainly should’ve qualified for the Division III National Tournament. […] I don’t think it was a just process and I think that’s known nationally.”
Despite only playing in 13 games, the Cyclones finished with 62 goals for — an average of 4.77 per game. They only allowed 35 goals for a 2.69 goals against average. After the success of this past season, Fairman has high hopes for the future.
“Our expectations for next season are that they will be a national contender as Division II was this past year,” Fairman said.