CEDAR RAPIDS — Hockey is a sport where everyone has a nickname.
Most are obvious. Forward Graham Slaggert is known as Slaggs, Coach Mark Carlson is Carly.
Then there’s Josh Bohlin.
The boys in the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders locker room refer to the first-year forward as Donnie. His middle name is Donald, so that fits.
He is also Vanilla. That’s Carlson’s personal favorite.
“I said I was vanilla at the beginning of the year,” Bohlin said, with a grin. “You know, a pretty plain guy. They loved it, so they call me that.”
A third nickname is a little confusing to him. Or at least he claims it’s a headscratcher why he also gets called Frank.
Gotta love that one.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t know where that one came from,” he said. “But it’s kind of sticking.”
Donnie, Vanilla, Frank, Josh, whatever you prefer, Bohlin is beginning to come into his own for the RoughRiders. Carlson said the 17-year-old from Wausau, Wis., is playing his best hockey of the United States Hockey League season going into C.R.’s weekend homestand against Tri-City and Fargo.
The scoring numbers aren’t staggering, as he has just two goals and four assists in 32 games. But he has, by far, the club’s best plus-minus rating (plus-10), joining forward Jordan Timmons as the only two players in plus numbers there.
“I definitely think that’s a good indication (of his play),” Carlson said. “He works hard, he’s a gritty player, he cares about defense, he cares about playing well every night. He’s a guy who I have never had to be concerned with once about his work ethic, his desire, putting the team first, all of those things. Those things translate into being a plus player.”
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Carlson pointed out the other real impressive thing about Bohlin is his ability to play on the Riders’ penalty killing unit. He pairs with Liam Walsh there, has been playing on an effective forward line with Walsh and Kevin Lombardi.
“A lot of that is effort,” Bohlin said, of penalty killing. “Then a lot of it is just being able to communicate with your teammates. Knowing that they have your back, you have their back. You can just kind of read off of each other after awhile. The farther into the season you get, the more you can have some telepathy there that way, or whatever you call it. Where you can work with each other and just know where each other is going to be. That makes a big difference.”
Bohlin is making the huge step from Wisconsin prep hockey to the USHL. He’ll be a multiple-year player here, as he readies to play college hockey for his homestate Wisconsin Badgers.
There is skill with him, but Carlson also loves the intangibles.
“His drive and intensity,” the coach said. “He really wants to be a great player.”
“Just keep getting better every day and keep an open mind,” Bohlin said. “Just be willing to put the work in to keep pushing forward, regardless of what happens. The big thing is to get better here, so when I step in there (at Wisconsin), I’m able to make a difference my freshman year.”
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