CEDAR RAPIDS — It wasn’t just that the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders won Wednesday night. It was the way they won that was so encouraging.
An actual defensive battle went the Riders’ way, 3-1, before 1,803 fans at the Ice Arena. Very nicely done.
“I think we’re coming together as a group,” said Riders co-captain Davey Middleton. “Finally figuring out how to play a team defensive style and not being selfish. We’ve just got to come together, and I think we’re finally starting to do that more. It showed tonight.”
How much has this team struggled keeping the puck out of its net? This was the first time in 13 games Cedar Rapids allowed fewer than three goals.
The Riders didn’t make defensive mistakes, didn’t turn the puck over, didn’t give up odd-man rushes and got solid goaltending from Steve Michalek. He had a shutout going until Vinni Lettieri scored with 1:23 left with his team’s goaltender pulled for an extra attacker.
Middleton sewed up C.R.’s second win in three games by scoring an empty netter with exactly a minute left. Dylan Gareau and Clark Kuster had power-play goals for the RoughRiders, who improved to 9-11-3, 21 points.
As with most weeknight games, two referees oversaw the action, which led to 14 total power plays, nine by Cedar Rapids.
“I think I’m starting to feel better, the team is obviously starting to feel better,” said Michalek, a sixth-round draft pick of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild in 2011. “I really didn’t have to do a lot tonight. They started (getting going) the last five minutes, but other than that, it was really a quiet night for me ... It was good to get out of here with a win.”
Michalek came to town three weeks ago after deciding to leave Harvard University. He went roughly eight months without playing a game at any level, so you had to expect some rust.
There was little evident Wednesday night.
“The beginning of the first couple of games here, the first period, I felt kind of uncomfortable in the net,” he said. “But I’ve started to feel better every day in practice and every game I play. I’m getting there.”
The Riders play Friday night at Sioux City and return home Saturday night to face Team USA. Another player was added to the roster before last night’s game, with defenseman Mark Evan Auk joining the club from the Port Huron Fighting Falcons of the North American Hockey League.
Auk, 17, had three goals and 12 points in 27 games for Port Huron. The Michigan resident is a Michigan Tech college commitment.
Here is the gamesheet: