By Alex Vilardo - Website Content Contributor
It is not very often when over half of a team’s most recent graduates sign professional contracts. This year, that was the case for the Iowa State Cyclones, as three of the team’s five members of the Class of 2011 have signed with professional teams this summer:
Forward Mike Lebler inked a two-year contract in Austria with the Linz Black Wings of the Erste Banke League, forward Matt Cohn signed a professional tryout contract with the Louisiana Ice Gators of the Southern Professional Hockey League, and goaltender Erik Hudson also joined the SPHL, signing with the Pensacola Ice Flyers.
Lebler was the first of the trio to become a professional hockey player, as he signed his contract in May. A two-year team scoring leader, Lebler finished his four years as a Cyclone with 93 goals and 121 assists in 176 games. Lebler’s senior season, in which he had 23 goals and 26 assists in 42 games, earned him plenty of hardware: The British Columbia native won the Cyclones’ Murdoch Award (given to the team’s most valuable player), the Rod French Award (given to the team’s most outstanding forward), and the Ed Moore Award (given to the player who best exhibits sportsmanship).
“He’ll do very well [in the EBL],” said Iowa State head coach Alan Murdoch. “I think that the style of play we have is comparable to the European style of play — with the physical aspects of the NHL.”
After Lebler averaged over a point per game in each of his four year’s at Iowa State, it is safe to say that he has a scoring touch. His teammates know that his style of play is not about just scoring goals, however.
“I had the opportunity to play with Lebler for three years,” said current Iowa State senior and team captain Brian Rooney. “He’s a tremendous leader, he gives it 100 percent, and I think he’ll be overly successful [in the EBL].”
“I played on a line with Lebler,” said current Iowa State sophomore Chris Cucullu, “and he is one of those guys who could make anything happen out of nothing. He’s a great playmaker and a great scorer. He always led by example.”
Murdoch says that he enjoyed watching Lebler grow as a player between Lebler’s freshman year and his final game.
“By his senior year, he was doing it all,” said the coach. “He was a good skater, but he got even better. By his senior year, he was very valuable on our special teams units. He improved defensively a lot.”
Unlike Lebler, Cohn signed his contract in early September. The Hampshire, Illinois native played just one year at Iowa State, as he transferred from the University of Central Oklahoma after three years. Cohn had a memorable year at Iowa State, however, has he scored 15 goals and added 8 helpers in 37 games. In his four years in the ACHA, Cohn scored a total of 127 points in 146 games.
“Matt filled a similar role [to Lebler’s],” said Murdoch. “He’s a very good skater, a good passer, and he scored goals. I wish I had him for four years.”
While Cohn’s ACHA numbers are impossible to overlook, his teammates will remember him for something other than hockey.
“He’s a great guy on and off the ice — there’s not a nicer guy anywhere in the world,” said Rooney. “I know he’ll be successful [in the SPHL]. He’s been training with guys from the AHL, and he’ll be in superb shape.”
“Cohn is probably one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met,” added Cucullu. “He has the best work ethic of anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Similar to Cohn, Hudson is a new member of the SPHL. In his senior season, Hudson played just over 27 games and finished with a goals against average of 2.57 and a save percentage of 90.94%. He also had 5 shutouts.
Hudson’s best season as a Cyclone came while he was a junior: The goaltender played in 30.5 games and finished with a 2.36 goals against average. He also had a save percentage of 91.37% and recorded 6 shutouts.
“[Hudson] was our starting goalie for all four years,” said Murdoch. “He’s an exceptional goaltender and a very good student. The biggest springboard for him in his four years here was playing for Team USA in the World University Games. It gave him a lot of exposure.”
“He’s a great goaltender and a great locker room guy,” Rooney added. “He’s a force to be reckoned with between the pipes.”
Thanks to the three signings, the ACHA gets more recognition from respectable hockey leagues. Thanks to the three signings, Iowa State — and the rest of the ACHA — has something to be proud of. And thanks to the three signings, three young players have great opportunities in front of them.