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CEDAR RAPIDS — This isn’t a total reconstruction job. Just about as close as you can get, though.
The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders open the 2016-17 USHL season Saturday night at home against Dubuque. Agreed, the weather doesn’t make it feel like it’s time for hockey.
The Riders won the Anderson Cup this past April for most regular-season standings points in the league, but so much production from that team has moved along to college and elsewhere.
How much, you ask? Do you really want to hear this?
Cedar Rapids is minus its top 12 scorers from last season, including All-USHL first-team forward Ross Colton, who set the franchise single-season record with 35 goals in 2015-16. Jack Ahcan, the USHL Defenseman of the Year, also is preparing for his freshman college hockey season.
So is Ben Blacker, an All-USHL second-team goaltender. He played in 50 of his team’s 60 regular-season games a season ago.
“We’ve got a lot of new, exciting players, that’s for sure,” said RoughRiders Coach/General Manager Mark Carlson. “Probably the highest number of new players we’ve ever had, which is exciting. We’ve been getting better every day, I think, here. We’re looking forward to practice today and playing on Saturday.”
The Riders won only one of their seven preseason games, which obviously means nothing. It was concerning enough for Carlson, though, to make three trades in the last few days.
He brought in forward Dalton Messina from Fargo, forward Matt Hudie from Green Bay and defenseman Jakub Sirota from Des Moines. Hudie was Green Bay’s leading scorer in the preseason, while Sirota is considered a possible 2017 National Hockey League draft pick.
“I think there are a lot of positives, as far as growth goes, potential, where guys are going to be in two weeks. Those types of things,” Carlson said. “As far as challenges, I think it’s exciting as a coach to get down to just paying attention to details, the little things. Talking about teamwork and effort, all those kinds of things. Seeing the kids learn. There are a lot of positives to it.”
“I think the thing we took away (from last season) was that everyone has to contribute, pull their own weight,” said defenseman Ben Foley. “It’s got to be a complete team effort. We can’t rely on one guy, can’t rely on one line. We’ve got to have the whole team working, with everyone doing their own job, in order to be successful.”
Foley is one of 10 guys on the opening-night roster (at least Wednesday’s roster) that has played previously for C.R. Forward Zac Robbins is the leading returning scorer.
He had seven goals and 17 points in 59 games.
“Guys are going to be excited Saturday night, but we can’t get too ahead of ourselves,” Robbins said. “You’ve just got to do team details and play as a team.”
Other returnees include forwards Pavel Tkachkov, Johnny DeRoche, Matt Gosiewski, Sam Sternschein, Will Garin and Liam Walsh and defenseman Trevor Zins. Walsh actually begins the season on the club’s affiliate roster of younger players, as Carlson juggles trying to keep more than 23 players in town at this point.
Zack LaRocque played eight games in net last season and split preseason duties with newcomer Matt Ladd. Highly touted 16-year-old Drew DeRidder (a recent Michigan State commit) played one game and rumor has it could join the club soon, though Carlson would not confirm that.
Forward Marc McLaughlin led the RoughRiders in scoring in the preseason.
Second-year defenseman Riese Zmolek had offseason surgery for a torn hip labrum and probably won’t be available until November at the earliest. Second-year defenseman Taylor Brierley was let go by the RoughRiders and picked up by Dubuque.
First-year forward Owen Guy injured a shoulder in preseason and will miss the entire regular season. A Canadian, his import spot on the roster was taken by Sirota, who is from the Czech Republic.
The other two imports are Tkachkov (Russia) and defensemen Bence Stipsicz (Hungary).
“I think the kids understand the tradition that we have,” Carlson said. “But, as a lot of you know, we kind of live in the present. Just try and teach the kids on a daily basis and have them control what they can control: the work ethic and the determination and improving every day. Those kinds of things.”
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