This feature appears in the August edition of USA Junior Hockey Magazine.
It’s hard for Bill Flanagan to place himself in his life of 16 years ago. Back then, the co-founder and current owner and head coach of the Northern Cyclones had one full-season junior team. Now, the Cyclones have 20 full-season junior and youth teams serving both young men and women.
“We started with the dedication and commitment to give the players a hockey experience like we had,” said Flanagan. He played his college hockey for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and his brother and co-founder Joe played at the University of New Hampshire. “We modeled the game after how we want it to be played, and we’ve been very successful.
“This program has grown into a fully inclusive hockey environment, where you can do your schooling, off-ice training and get the best on-ice training here,” Bill Flanagan added. “We have all the tools right here at Cyclones Arena for maximum player development.”
The Cyclones will again field their tuition-free National Collegiate Development Conference team at the top of the organization. They also field two developmental junior teams in the USPHL Premier and Elite Divisions, respectively, as well as full-season Midget programs in the USPHL, half-season Midget teams in the EHF Selects and youth teams in the Eastern Hockey Federation. The EHF Selects and EHF youth divisions are also run by the USPHL after their merger this past spring.
The Cyclones enjoyed a banner year for college commitments. From the NCDC team, they had four NCAA Division 1 commitments and eight NCAA Division 3 commitments. There were 14 NCAA Division 2 and 3 commitments made by their Premier players, and they also had one commitment made by USPHL Elite standout Thomas Dyreng.
“It starts with a terrific, unified coaching staff with one mission,” said Flanagan. “We don’t run separate teams with separate agendas. We’re always talking about players, always talking about where each one can fit. There is the opportunity here to go from team to team, and that really differentiates us from a lot of programs. We are one staff, even though we coach different teams.”
They have volumes of success stories already for promotion within the organization. Nine players who will be on the 30-man roster for the NCDC team have played within the Cyclones’ organization at one step or another before the NCDC. Six of those played youth, midget and juniors for the Cyclones.
Caleb Price (’00) made his NCDC debut in 2017-18 and played in 16U and 18U prior to scoring 18 points in 50 NCDC games last year.
Other players have climbed the ladder at the youth levels and have gone on to great success, such as Johnny MacLeod. He just finished his senior year and fourth playing season for Boston University, and was a 2014 second round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“There is only one person I can think of who has had the most influence on my life and that person is Coach Bill Flanagan. I have been a hockey player of his since I was 7 years old. He not only taught me everything I know about the game of hockey, but he taught me that you had to be a student-athlete and a good person as well,” said MacLeod, who grew up in nearby Dracut, Mass. “He was constantly bringing in players to talk to the team about how important grades were. I am the hockey player I am today because of everything he taught me both on and off the ice. I hope he knows how much he has meant to me over the years. He is one person I will never forget.”
On the women’s side, there was of course Kali Flanagan. Bill’s daughter eventually moved on to the National Sports Academy, Boston College, and this past winter, she helped Team USA win its first women’s hockey Olympic Gold Medal in 20 years.
Grant Gallo played two junior seasons earlier this decade for the Cyclones, and was equally grateful as they helped him towards a four-year career at Division 1 University of Nebraska-Omaha.
“I can’t thank Coach Flanagan and the rest of the Cyclones staff enough,” Gallo added. “It was an honor to play for a first class organization like the Cyclones, where you are pushed to be at your best every day. I have improved in every aspect of the game while playing for the Cyclones. I came to this program with no opportunities at the next level and after hard work and very supportive coaching, I have achieved my goal of playing college hockey.
“I am so blessed to have been a part of the Northern Cyclones and I will never forget the past two seasons spent here,” added Gallo.
The players are lining up to get a chance to get the Cyclone Experience, as Flanagan said he had over 100 players at the junior program’s main camp. He feels fortunate to have tuition-free players either coming to or staying home in the Northeast, rather than feeling they “have to” go to the midwest to succeed.
“Personally, before the NCDC, I would think, ‘how could we give a free option to attract the top-notch players?’” Flanagan said. “It’s something that gives all of our players in our program something to aspire to.
“The NCDC is a work in progress, and is defining itself as to what exactly it is going to be. We are in the infancy stages with this. It is a unique league in terms of the free tuition combined with minimal travel, more practice and off-ice training, more time to focus on education. It is the ultimate player experience at the no-tuition level.”
The skill training portion of Cyclones offerings took a big jump this year with the addition of Thomas Pöck, a native of Austria who was a four-year star with the University of Massachusetts, an Olympian for his home country, and for 122 games, a NHL player.
“We are really excited to add Thomas to the mix, giving a pro flavor to our coaching group now,” said general manager Frank O’Connor. “He’ll be able to work with our guys on a 1-on-1 basis during skill-specific times.”
The Northern Cyclones have prospered through growth even during topsy-turvy times in junior hockey, and -- like the weather phenomenon for which they have named -- continue to pick up steam and power with every passing moment.