Cedar Rapids RoughRiders fall in home opener to Omaha, 5-1

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CEDAR RAPIDS — This is not last season.

Let’s repeat that quickly. This is not last season.

A 5-1 loss to Omaha in the home opener Saturday night at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena might have, in black and white terms, been eerily similar to what you saw way too much in a disastrous 2016-17 USHL season for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.

But you didn’t have to squint to see the potential of this club. It’s competitive and has a chance to be pretty good when everyone gets healthy and is available to play.

“I totally agree,” said Riders winger Liam Walsh. “We have a lot of new faces, a lot of exciting faces. It’s a lot different than last year. We’re excited for this season, excited about getting more wins this year.”

Remember that it took until the day after Thanksgiving for Cedar Rapids to win its first game last season. The RoughRiders (1-2) already have one under their belts this season, that coming a week ago at Madison.

They played a good first period here, too, but things fell apart rapidly in a three-goal second period that put Omaha on top for good, 4-1. Responding to adversity is something that’ll have to improve.

“I think we just fell apart as a team,” said RoughRiders winger Roman Ahcan. “Once that (second period) broke, it kind of just folded down on us. But we’ve just got to keep going and come together as a team more. Especially on the bench, we’ve got to be better on the bench. No more negativity.”

Omaha scored with 5 minutes left in the first period on a Joseph Abate breakaway. Cedar Rapids tied it three minutes later on defenseman Brad Stonnell’s one-timed slapshot on the power play.

Ethan Price had two of Omaha’s second-period goals. The other came from Brendan Furry, who was the recipient of Riders goalie Jiri Patera’s turnover behind his own net.

Furry scored his second of the night to conclude the scoring late in the third period. Omaha pumped 49 shots at Patera, with Cedar Rapids managing 27 against Lancers goalie Zach Driscoll, who played college hockey last season at St. Cloud State.

“The first part of the game there it was a real good hockey game,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “Then we had a lost coverage there when they got their second one, and we had one on the breakout where we had some miscommunication there. After that, we weren’t very good. But prior to that (second period) and after that, I thought we played a lot of good hockey. We’ve just got to learn lessons from it here and go back to work.”

Only four players in Saturday night’s lineup (forwards Walsh, Dalton Messina, Jordan Timmons and Steven Agriogianis) have prior USHL experience. Returnees T.J. Walsh and Jason Polin are on the injured reserve list with maladies that will keep them out until likely Christmas.

Returnees Marc McLaughlin and Jake Johnson also are out injured and likely a week or two away from returning. First-year defenseman Ilya Sushko also is hurt and was a scratch Saturday night.

Cedar Rapids hosts Lincoln and Central Illinois for games next weekend.

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

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