Cedar Rapids RoughRiders fighting major injury issues in preseason

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CEDAR RAPIDS — There were 29 players practicing Monday afternoon with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. That included four — count ‘em, four — goaltenders.

But the the trio of guys sitting in press-box chairs at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena and watching the action from center ice might be the most noteworthy.

They were second-year forwards Jason Polin, Marc McLaughlin and T.J. Walsh, all injured and unavailable to play ... for quite a long time.

“It gives other guys chances, yeah,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “But, at the same time, that’s an awful lot of firepower to lose all at one time. There’s no denying that.”

Walsh and McLaughlin are commitments to powerhouse Boston College who combined for 12 goals and 20 assists in 107 combined games last season. Polin has committed to Western Michigan and had eight goals and 13 points in 60 games.

Walsh and Polin are out “a number of months” after shoulder and jaw surgery, respectively. McLaughlin has an upper-body injury and is out four to six weeks, according to Carlson.

When you’re trying to rebound from a season in which you had the fewest amount of standings points in the United States Hockey League, that’s tough. Real, real tough.

“I don’t compare anything to last year,” said Carlson, when asked how he felt about things compared to a year ago. “I don’t really live in last year or no matter what year it is. I would say that in the 18 years of teams, or whatever it is, it’s been pretty comparable to a lot of the teams we’ve had.”

The RoughRiders have played four official preseason games and won one. They bus Tuesday morning to South Bend, Ind., en route eventually to Pittsburgh for the 2017 USHL Fall Classic.

The regular season begins with road games Oct. 6 at Green Bay and Oct. 7 at Madison. The home opener is Oct. 14 against Omaha.

Returning players in camp (and healthy enough to play) are forwards Steven Agriogianis, Jordan Timmons, Dalton Messina and Liam Walsh, and defensemen Trevor Zins and Jake Johnson. Defenseman Jakub Sirota began camp here but was traded back to Des Moines, from which the Riders acquired him in a trade last season.

Forwards Tomas Vochozka and Matt Demelis, both of whom played regular-season games last season with the RoughRiders, have been moved to lower-level leagues after playing in two preseason games each.

The four goaltenders here are Jiri Patera, Connor Murphy, Austin Park and Blake Pietila. Patera has played in parts of two preseason games after attending rookie camp and training camp with the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights, for who he was a draft pick this summer.

Nine players from the 2017 USHL Draft, Phase One are with Cedar Rapids: forward Graham Slaggert (first round), defenseman Chase Blackmun (second), Park and defenseman Will Zmolek (fourth), forward Kevin Lombardi (sixth), Murphy (seventh), forward Josh Bohlin (ninth), forward Spencer DenBeste (11th) and forward Neil Shea (15th). Slaggert is a Notre Dame commit, Shea a Northeastern commit.

Free-agent acquisitions with college commitments are forward Brian Chambers (UMass-Lowell), forward Nathan Smith (Minnesota State) and defenseman Tyler Jubenvill (Bemidji State). The four non-Canadian imports right now are forwards Marek Valach (Slovakia) and Jakub Urbanek (Slovakia), Patera (Czech Republic) and defenseman Ilya Sushko.

“It has been a good camp, been competitive at all three positions,” Carlson said. “We’ve got a lot of guys playing to make the team. We’ll see how it goes this week. Every day is important. We’re looking for consistency. It’s cliche, I guess, but guys have got to be ready to go every day.”

Here's a look at 30-man rosters and affiliate lists for each USHL team at the beginning of fall practice.

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

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