This little Birdie is starting to fly for 'Riders

Goaltender Chris Birdsall finding his groove in net for 'Riders

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CEDAR RAPIDS He got sick a couple of weeks ago with a case of what you could call Bird flu.

Imagine just turning 16 and being away from home for the first time. You fall ill and your parents arent there to take care of you.

These kids playing junior hockey have to grow up fast.

Yeah, I was throwing up and everything, said Chris Birdsall. That was a little different, not having my mom around to help me out.

Thankfully, Birdsall has a great billet mom and dad in Sue and Nick Poshusta. Theyre as nice of people as you can find.

Part of the reason Birdsall decided to play for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, really. Shunned by the high-profile United States National Team Development Program last spring despite widely being considered the top goaltender for his age group in the country, Birdsall fielded a phone call last April from RoughRiders head coach/general manager Mark Carlson, asking him to come check out Cedar Rapids.

The New Jersey resident and his family liked what they saw, and Birdsall was signed to a United States Hockey League predraft tender. Already a Boston College commitment, the plan is for him to play three years here.

This week, Birdsall was named to a U.S. team that will compete in the 2013 Under-17 World Challenge international tournament. Quite a coup for the RoughRiders, who play this weekend at Fargo and Sioux Falls.

I dont think its the recruiting job I did, Carlson said. I say this all the time, (but) its Cedar Rapids, its our community, our schools, our housing families, this great arena we have, and the league itself. All those things combined. Were thankful Birdie and his family thought this was a nice opportunity.

I really like it here, Birdsall said. I like the team, the players are good. Great team ... (Team USA) didnt offer me a spot, and I was a little mad about that. Theyre supposed to be the big thing, the top players in America, and I was a little upset about it. But the RoughRiders are a good organization, and Im proud to be here.

As youd expect with someone so young, Birdie has had his ups and downs on the ice. It hasnt helped that the RoughRiders have struggled defensively as a whole.

But you see games like last week, a 3-2 shootout win over Team USA's U-18 team, and you get excited because this kid should be really good in a couple of years. Maybe even before that.

Hes a cool customer. Hes a cool, calm customer in there in net, Carlson said. Hes just going to keep getting better. And I feel that about our team. They are hungry. Every guy we have is hungry to get better.

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