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CEDAR RAPIDS — In what has been a tough season for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, a positive has been Drew DeRidder. Perhaps the biggest positive.
Not many 16-year-old goaltenders get thrown into the United States Hockey League fire, and the Michigan resident has had that happen. The encouraging thing is DeRidder hasn’t wilted under that intense pressure.
He not only has survived but even thrived at times.
“I’m having a lot of fun,” DeRidder said Friday night, after his team lost to Madison, 3-1, at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. “I love the kids, I love the team, I love the city. It has been a great journey. It could go a little bit better, as far as winning more games. But I’ve been doing pretty well, am thankful to have played a lot of games.”
That would be 31 of them after Friday. DeRidder has seven of C.R.’s nine wins, one shutout, a 3.44 goals against average and .885 save percentage.
That’s more than respectable considering everything.
“He’s done a really good job, has improved a ton,” RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson said. “He has worked hard every day, he competes. He has done a really nice job this year.”
DeRidder was brought in after the preseason from his midget major team in suburban Detroit. He came with accolades, having already committed to Michigan State, but that age tempered immediate expectations.
Not that he ever thought about being 16 as a negative.
“Age is just a number in this league,” DeRidder said. “There are a bunch of good players. You just don’t worry about age. I’ve been playing against older kids pretty much my whole career now. I just don’t really think about it.”
He said he can tell how much improvement he has made since first coming to town in the fall. It’s scary to think how good this kid could be by the time he is done with the RoughRiders.
“I’m a lot more mature. Even my billet parents are seeing it,” said DeRidder. “They think I’m really mature for my age. Coach has even said I’m getting a lot better, and I can tell. Looking back at some early games, it’s just not even the same kid.”
Madison got a pair of goals from Billy Jerry, brother of former RoughRider Casey Jerry, to win. Riese Zmolek had the Riders’ lone goal, that on the power play midway through the second period.
Special teams have not been real special for C.R. this season, though it had a power-play goal here and killed off all four Madison attempts. The RoughRiders host Sioux City on Saturday night.
They played with only 11 forwards Friday night, with Steven Agriogianis, Dalton Messina and Tomas Vochozka all scratched. Messina was serving a one-game USHL suspension after receiving his fourth checking-from-behind penalty last weekend, while Agriogianis is out for the rest of the season with a torn labrum.
“I just think we need a better collective effort from everybody,” Carlson said, summing up Friday’s game. “It was that simple, I think.”
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