CEDAR RAPIDS — That first season was not easy. Just ask Chris Snavely.
“We had it all,” he said.
The Cedar Rapids Ice Arena was still being completed by the time the 1999-2000 United States Hockey League campaign got underway. That meant every preseason game and basically the first half of the regular season for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders was played on the road.
A couple of “home” games took place at Waterloo’s Young Arena, but it was hit the bus, hit your car for everything.
“I remember helping install seats at the rink,” said Snavely, a 16-year-old defenseman on that inaugural Riders club. “We drove every day down to Coralville for practice at the (Coral Ridge) mall, in between high-school classes. It was a great experience, a great group of guys.”
Snavely and former goaltender Bobby Goepfert are returning to Cedar Rapids this weekend. The Riders host Dubuque on Friday night and Waterloo on Saturday night for what is being called “RoughRiders Reunion Night.”
The pair will be honored pregame and will sign autographs and take pictures with fans. It’s similar to last year’s appearance of former Rider and current Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader.
A night to honor and celebrate the history of the franchise.
“That’s why we put our heads together and invited Bobby and Snaves back,” said Mark Carlson, the only head coach and general manager the RoughRiders have had. “Last year was great, having Abbie’s night for him. He’s a guy who is playing in the NHL and doing a tremendous job. But we wanted to make sure we’re recognizing (other) former players ... It’s not all about just getting there (to the NHL). It’s about life lessons and learning and relationships and impact. So we just looked back.”
Snavely was Carlson’s first recruit, playing four seasons in Cedar Rapids, accumulating 212 regular-season games and 18 playoff games. He went on to play four years of college hockey at Michigan State and three years of professional hockey in the minor leagues before retiring because of a wrist injury.
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The 34-year-old has returned home to Lancaster, Pa., and runs the drywall division of his family’s lumber, millwork and building materials business (J.C. Snavely & Sons, Inc.).
“Cedar Rapids holds a huge place in my heart,” he said. “I can’t say enough about how nice the people are there, the people of the Midwest are. It just meant the world to me to be there.
“I just hope that town realizes what they have in Mark Carlson. He is a special guy ... I use quotes of his every day to get my guys ready for their work day.”
Goepfert was the first great RoughRiders goalie. He joined the club for the 2000-01 season and won 52 games in two years, helping it to the USHL playoffs for the first time.
He was an all-USHL pick in 2002, compiling a sparkling 2.04 goals against average, and was drafted later that summer in the sixth round by the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. After two years at Providence College, Goepfert transferred to St. Cloud State and then embarked on an 11-year pro career that included six years in Germany.
He retired after the 2015-16 season and moved back to Long Island. Goepfert, 33, was traveling in Germany this week and unavailable for an interview.
“Bobby started with us in our second year, wore number 47 there and really backstopped our team,” Carlson said. “For Bobby to come in and do what he did, he had a nice season, we made the playoffs with what I would say was the first time we had a team that we built ... His second year was very good as well. We beat Lincoln, the first playoff series we ever won. He was a big part of that.”
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