Frozen Kuster tastes good to RoughRiders

RoughRiders' defenseman impresses coach on and off ice

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CEDAR RAPIDS - It seemed an incredibly innocous act, but it made a huge impression on his coach.

Clark Kuster took the time recently to move a heavy table in the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders locker room that had a full cooler of Gatorade on top of it. That was all in order to pick up and throw away a piece of wayward hockey tape.

RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson always has preached to his players to have enough respect for "the room" to keep it clean and orderly. That's why someone vaccuums it after virtually every practice.

But in his mind, Kuster was going above and beyond here, and he loved it.

"He picked up that tape because he knows those are the types of things we feel are important around here," Carlson said. "The kid's a winner."

Kuster, 17, didn't play a whole lot early in the United States Hockey League season as he adjusted to a big jump in competition, but he's been terrific the last month. "Frozen Kuster," as is his Twitter handle, has three goals and seven assists in Cedar Rapids' last eight games, and was named the league's defenseman of the week Tuesday after scoring a pair of goals and posting a plus-two rating.

The St. Louis resident has seven goals and 12 assists in just 21 games this season, the goal total ranking second among league defensemen. He just seems to have a knack for the net.

"Just working hard on the ice. Shooting pucks, things like that," Kuster said. "It's just been a lot of hard work. Just really getting comfortable with everyone on the ice: players, teammates, coaches. Now I'm having some fun.

"I guess I've always had a good shot, and I'm really learning how to use it. Finding lanes and getting it to the net."

Carlson positively glows when you ask him about Kuster. He's another in a long line of fine players he has been able to dig out of the St. Louis area.

Kuster played last season for the St. Louis Junior Blues Tier III team.

"For me, Clark really personifies the type of person we want in our program," Carlson said. "He's an extremely, extremely hard worker, he's mentally tough, he's physically tough. He wants to get better, likes hard practices, likes hard weight-training sessions. If he had to get up at 3 a.m. to train, he wouldn't complain and would probably like it."

You've seen a steady stream of college coaches come talk to Kuster after games, which is an indication of his talent and upside. He said he's in no hurry to commit.

"I've talked to a few (coaches), but I'm just focused on playing for the RoughRiders right now," he said. "Just trying to get some wins here."

"Once he got acclimated, he's really been playing well," Carlson said. "He's a good two-way defenseman, and he's a very young player in the league. He's just going to continue to get better because of the character he has and the work ethic he has. That guy wants to get better. We want guys that want to get better."

The RoughRiders host Tri-City on Friday night and play Saturday night at Waterloo.

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