CEDAR RAPIDS — Hey, force. Where the heck were you?
Not with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, who saw their standings points streak come to an end at eight Saturday night with a 4-2 loss to Youngstown on Stars Wars Night at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
The force turned out to be with Youngstown left winger Chase Gresock instead. He had a hat trick, including the winning goal with 9:46 left.
Gresock received one beautiful home run pass at the Cedar Rapids blueline from teammate Craig Needham, who threaded the needle from inside his blueline, elevating the puck over the sticks of a pair of Riders defenders in the neutral zone and on Gresock’s tape. The Merrimack College commit beat C.R. goaltender Jiri Patera to the stick side.
Max Ellis scored an empty net goal with 27.4 seconds left for the final margin. The teams split their weekend series here.
“We battled back,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “You’ve got to play a full 60 minutes in this league.”
Gresock gave Youngstown a 2-0 lead with a pair of first-period goals. The first came on a 2-on-1 feed from teammate Matthew Barry, the other on a rebound after an odd-man rush.
After a listless first period, the RoughRiders (12-11-4, 28 points) worked their way back into the game. Graham Slaggert scored on a neat forehand-backhand deke move through the five-hole of Youngstown goalie Ivan Prosvetov midway through the second.
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Newcomer Nick Cardelli tied it on the power play eight minutes into the third period, pouncing on a loose puck at the side of the net and lifting it over a prone Prosetov. Cardelli had two goals and an assist in three games since being acquired in a trade from the USHL’s Fargo Force, providing a ton of speed on right wing.
“A little surprising (to be traded), but with the league rules and all with the ‘97 (birthdates), when one kid came back (from college) that played on the Force team last year, obviously, someone had to go,” Cardelli said. “Coach Carlson wants to play a fast-paced game, kind of like we did in Fargo. So the systems haven’t really been too much different.”
Cedar Rapids has climbed up the Eastern Conference standings with its fine play of late. The club went into Saturday having won five games and losing three, all in overtime or a shootout.
The RoughRiders play Friday night at Chicago, returning home the following night to host Waterloo. Before Saturday’s game, the club announced it has traded defenseman Sam Malinski to Bismarck of the lower-level North American Hockey League.
Forward Nathan Smith, one of the team’s leading scorers, did not play, serving a one-game USHL suspension for removing an opponent’s helmet during a scrum in Friday night’s game.
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