Minor League Sports

Cedar Rapids RoughRiders win finale, edged out for USHL playoff spot

CEDAR RAPIDS — Man, you would have loved to see how they’d have done in the postseason. No question they’ve been playing their best hockey down the stretch.

But the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders will have to settle for winning their final game of the season. Their final five.

A 4-1 victory Saturday night over Madison at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena wasn’t enough to secure a United States Hockey League playoff spot. Defending champion Chicago beat Central Illinois in a shootout Saturday night to edge the Riders by a standings point for sixth place and the final available postseason slot in the Eastern Conference.

One stinking point. Chicago held the tiebreaker via ROW (regulation and overtime wins), so it technically clinched the second its game went past regulation.

These RoughRiders battled key injuries the entire way, beginning in the preseason, but perservered and made a heck of a run at it at the end. They easily could have quit but didn’t.

“It’s definitely upsetting,” said RoughRiders center Nathan Smith, in a gloomy locker room filled with lots of tears. “You’re with these guys all year, we bonded, love each other. It was a tough season with a bunch of injuries. So for us to pull off these last five games, that showed we’ve got some pretty tough guys around here.”

The final record is 26-24-10. Certainly they’ll lament not being able to turn around just one of those 10 overtime/shootout losses, let alone losing a third-period lead to the Steel and eventually in overtime three weeks ago.

They shouldn’t lament the way they kept pushing forward.

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“I could not be prouder of this hockey team,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “Anyone that knows me, knows I don’t sugarcoat things. Boy, I couldn’t be prouder of this group. They battled through from August on, had a number of different challenges. We played really, really well here down the stretch. Ended with a winning record, went 10-3-3 in their last 16 games, 7-1-2, I think in their last 10 ... Tons of players improving, coming together as a group. I am so, so proud of these guys. I hope our entire fan base is, our community is, because this was a tremendous group on and off the ice.”

Smith and Jordan Timmons scored goals here and Jason Polin had two. Timmons finished with a team-high 24 this season, while Smith (a likely NHL draft pick this summer) and Polin are guys who should return for a promising 2018-19 season.

Others that very well could be back include 20-goal scorer Marek Valach and leading defenseman scorer Matt Denman. Both goaltenders (Jiri Patera and Blake Pietila) are eligible to return as well.

“Yeah, with the players that should be back, with the way our list looks, I really like our futures list (of players),” Carlson said, when asked if he was excited about next season’s possibilities. “We’ll work our tails off with the draft. We certainly like the looks of things. It’s been a long, long time, and it automatically doesn’t make you a good team, but it’s been a long time since we’ve had even a handful of guys back. We’ll see what happens.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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