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CEDAR RAPIDS — There were glimpses of what this could become by the end of the United States Hockey League season.
There was a shift at the beginning of the third period in which the forward line of Matt Hudie, Aleski Halme and Jason Polin hemmed the opponent in its zone for about a minute. Defensemen A.J. Villella and Trevor Zins played a role in that puck hogging and chance-fest as well.
Goaltender Drew DeRidder made his United States Hockey League debut and looked calm and poised well beyond his tender age of 16. The kid looked like he belonged.
It was another loss Saturday night for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, 4-1, at the hands of the Muskegon Lumberjacks at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. They’re still searching for their first victory three weeks and five games into the season.
But there’s a long way to go, and a lot of room for growth for this young and inexperienced group.
“I thought in a lot of ways this was our most encouraging game of the year,” Riders Coach Mark Carlson said. “I thought we did a lot of good things in the game, for sure. We had a lot of chances. A lot of our guys are raising their level of play.”
Hudie had C.R.’s lone goal, a brilliant one-on-one effort in which he weaved around a defenseman, got in on goal and squeezed a shot through the pads of Muskegon goalie Adam Brizgala. That late second-period goal made it a 2-1 game headed to the third, but Collin Adams (a New York Islanders draft pick) scored early in the third, then put the dagger in with an empty netter with 27.2 seconds remaining.
DeRidder was pulled for an extra attacker with 2:12 left, and the Riders (0-4-1) put on lots of pressure but couldn’t score.
“Once everyone figures out what they have to do, and our team figures out its identity, I think we’ll step it up a lot,” DeRidder said. “Coach has been saying he’s got two rules: avoid team complacency, and don’t beat yourselves. We’ve kind of been beating ourselves lately.”
DeRidder was very good at the RoughRiders’ tryout camp last summer, but you just don’t keep a 16-year-old goaltender around in this league unless you absolutely have to. With goalie play not a strength in the preseason, Carlson decided to bring the Michigan State commit in two weeks ago.
Veteran Zack LaRocque was sick and unavailable Saturday night, so this was DeRidder’s game. Conor Klaers was brought in from the suburban Twin Cities to serve as an emergency backup.
DeRidder made 22 saves. Muskegon (4-1) got goals five minutes apart midway through the second period from Anthony Del Gaizo and Andrei Svechnikov, a 16-year-old Russian who is considered one of the best prospects in his age group in the world.
“I thought Drew DeRidder came in and played a really strong game,” Carlson said. “I’m really proud of his effort.”
“A lot of fun,” DeRidder said. “I like the pace. I love all the kids here. I’ve been here two weeks, and it’s been a great experience.”
The RoughRiders play games on the road next weekend at Tri-City and Des Moines. The next home game is Oct. 21 against Chicago.
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