By Joshua Boyd / NCDCHockey.com
Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., may be a long and convoluted trip from Bedford, N.H., but for Cade DeStefani, it is the path that paid great dividends in his hockey career thus far.
Growing up in New Hampshire, it’s no surprise that he and his family were attracted to playing for the Northern Cyclones, of Hudson. They had a tradition of league championships, high level appearances at National Championships and were also one of the founding members of the National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC).
When the time came to select his NCAA Division I destination, it’s no surprise he was excited to become part of Lindenwood’s first-ever NCAA Division I team.
“I had gone on a visit during my last weekend [in the USHL, in 2021-22]. I saw the school, campus, facilities and met the coaches, and it was a really easy decision after meeting them and seeing what the school was like,” said DeStefani, a 2001-born center.
Lindenwood threw their players right into the D-I fire, scheduling the Universities of Minnesota and Michigan on the first two weekends. Although the Lions lost these games, they put in some close contests, such as a 6-4 loss to Minnesota in Game 2 of their D-I existence, along with 3-1 and 7-4 losses to Michigan.
“We played a lot of really high-end teams. Being able to take on Minnesota and Michigan the first and second weekends was a wakeup call – we got acclimated right away to the Division I level. After that, it was easy to settle in and find my stride,” said DeStefani. “The coaches did a lot of development with us, so my game until the end of the year got rounded out really well, and I like where I’m heading this season.”
‘It was like a brotherhood, and it’s all started by Coach Bill Flanagan. He sets the mold for the team and sets the culture. He made it a winning culture, full of great people and great players.’ – Cade DeStefani, on his time with the Northern Cyclones
While nearly every player on Lindenwood was new to Division I hockey, DeStefani had the special honor of being the leading scorer among freshmen on the team. He put up a line of seven goals and eight assists for 15 points, ranking sixth overall on the team.
“I think I bring high-end skill and offensive ability, but I also can get back on the back-check and stay responsible in the D zone,” added DeStefani. “Still, to me, the best defense is a good offense, so I like to transition fast and make plays off the rush. I have confidence with the puck and get open when I don’t have it.”
That first brush with a couple of legendary NCAA college hockey powerhouses helped them win their very next game, a 7-6 comeback win over the Air Force Academy on Oct. 14, 2022, giving Lindenwood the historic first win they were out for from the start.
DeStefani’s offensive gifts were on display early on in his career, from posting nine points in 13 games on the Cyclones’ 14U team to, fast forwarding a bit, posting 51 in 27 USPHL 16U games in 2017-18. He also earned three USPHL 18U games (scoring two points) and his first two NCDC games in that inaugural season for the league.
“The Cyclones were the best, I started there when I was 13, playing on their 14U team and I just moved up from there. It was a real ladder of development, from 14U to 15U to 16U, and I played on the 18U team in my 16 year, also earning NCDC games that year,” said DeStefani. “From there, I spent the next two years with Coach Bill Flanagan and had some really good teams and met some good people along the way. I couldn’t be more thankful for my time with the Cyclones.
“I liked the idea of being able to stay home, finish out high school, which I was able to do, and I got to have my family and friends come watch me play every weekend,” he said. “I got to play against my brother a couple of times, which was a very cool thing when the NCDC came out. I knew I wanted to play in that league – you get to play free hockey, with great players around you all the time. It was a no-brainer, a very easy decision.”
He would also close out the next season with the Cyclones in his first full NCDC campaign. It wasn’t his only stop, however.
“I started my first full NCDC season with the Junior Bruins. It was good, and I liked playing for Coach Mike Anderson, but it was a lot of travel, and it got to be a lot still being in high school,” he said. “I needed to get closer to home and be able to focus more on school on top of hockey.”
After posting 14 points in his 29 games with the Cyclones, he and his teammates met the Junior Bruins in the Dineen Cup semifinals and gave them a strong three-game series after upsetting the heavily-favored Jersey Hitmen in the first round. The Junior Bruins went on to win that year’s Dineen Cup.
In his second full season with the Cyclones, DeStefani put up a fantastic 43 points in 40 games, pushing him eventually in the direction of the Tier I United States Hockey League and Lindenwood beyond.
“That was probably one of my favorite years I’ve had. We got shut down by COVID, so we didn’t get to prove ourselves in the playoffs, but everyone was tight-knit,” said DeStefani, of the 2019-20 NCDC season with the Cyclones. “It was like a brotherhood, and it’s all started by Coach Flanagan. He sets the mold for the team and sets the culture. He made it a winning culture, full of great people and great players. It was easy to come to the rink every day, and easy to want to do well, because everyone else had the same mindset. I think in the playoffs we would have been a force to be reckoned with.”
After splitting the 2020-21 season between another Tier II team and the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers (where he posted 12 points in 33 games), it was on to Lindenwood. DeStefani is excited about the great education he will get out of the university, where nearly 20 percent of the student body is enrolled in the Business and Management majors.
“I am studying business with an emphasis on sports management. In my freshman year, I just kind of got my general education courses out of the way and took a couple business classes,” said DeStefani. “I have a couple big business classes I’m looking forward to this year, and a couple labs I’m taking. It’ll be fun.”
And, of course, there’s always the fun to be had when tying on the skates and heading out into a loud arena to play the game he’s always loved. DeStefani is determined to make Year 2 at Lindenwood even bigger and better.
“This year, I want to take on more of a leadership role in the locker room. Not meaning to be the most vocal guy, but just lead by example,” he said. “I’m not a freshman any more, and we’ll have younger guys who will look up to me and they want to see what the life of playing Division I hockey is about. I’ll keep helping build the program and the culture. We’re still new, and hopefully we’ll build it into a Quinnipiac-like program. I just want to leave the program better than where I found it.”
The NCDC congratulates Cade DeStefani on a great freshman year at Lindenwood and wishes him the best of luck over the rest of his NCAA Division I career.