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CEDAR RAPIDS — Dodging opposing checks, helping kill penalties and trying to create goals for his team was difficult enough last season for Zac Robbins. It was his first go-around in the United States Hockey League.
But there was something else that nagged the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders forward. Something more intangible.
“What I really learned from last year is to be confident, always play loose,” Robbins said. “Last year, I found myself nervous sometimes. This year, coming in here for my second year, I already see myself more calm out there on the ice.”
Robbins played in every game but one last season for the RoughRiders. He was asked if that meant nerves affected him as deep as Games 57, 58 and 59.
“Absolutely,” he replied.
Robbins is C.R.’s leading returning scorer from 2015-16, though he finished 13th on last year’s team, with seven goals and 10 assists. He played more of a defensive role for the Riders, who open the season Saturday night at home against Dubuque (7:05 opening faceoff).
With offensive opportunities around aplenty, the 19-year-old from Glenview, Ill., is looking to increase his production a lot.
“I see myself as a two-way forward. I like to be gritty, but I feel like I have a skill side, too,” Robbins said. “The expectations I have for myself, I always like to set my standards high. I would love to be the leading scorer. As long as I think that way, I’m always motivated that I can do it.”
“I think you are going to see guys emerge,” RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson said, without being specific as to whom. “If I was able to look back to last year, as an example, I never would have sat and said Ross Colton would score 35 goals. I’m very happy that he did. We thought he could get 20, which is a lot in this league. But to say that we expected him to emerge to the point that he broke our single-season goal-scoring record, I never saw that coming.”
Robbins committed last fall to Brown University, where he’ll begin his career next season. Despite being far away from home, he felt he couldn’t pass up an Ivy League education.
He made the RoughRiders last season as a free agent, going undrafted by any USHL team. Robbins also attended Sioux City’s camp, but ultimately found a hockey home here.
Had he not made it with Cedar Rapids, he had plans to play for a very successful Janesville program in the lower-level North American Hockey League.
“I believe it was my work ethic,” Robbins said. “I always try and put out 110 percent on every shift. I was fortunate enough that Coach Carlson saw that.
“It honestly doesn’t matter what line I’m on, as long as I’m working hard and doing the things off the ice that I need to do. I feel like my work off ice will show on the ice.”
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