CEDAR RAPIDS — This wasn’t just a win, it was a character win. A big-time character win.
The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders gave up three goals in a seven-minute span of the second period Saturday night but rebounded for five unanswered from there to ground the Central Illinois Flying Aces, 5-3, at The Stable.
Couple this with a 4-2 win Friday night over Lincoln, and it was a great weekend for the Riders. They head to the road for five games in a row, including two next weekend against the United States National Team Development Program’s U16 and U17 teams.
The arrow indicating the direction of this club (now with a 3-2 record) is definitely up.
“We have a really good team,” said Riders forward Dalton Messina. “I don’t think anyone really got down when we got behind. We have a really young team, too, and I think everyone just stuck with the game plan. We kept working. We got one and realized ‘This isn’t so bad. We can do it.’ We came back and scored five unanswered, I think it was, so this was definitely a team effort.”
“We stuck with it,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “We got a little careless with a couple of things there, and that’s how they got their goals. But we just stuck with it. We had a couple of lapses, but we didn’t fold, we didn’t get down. We just kept working. I really liked our work ethic and our compete (level). A good win.”
Messina had the winning goal with 9:42 left, with Harry Roy setting him up. Roy stole a puck from a Central Illinois defenseman from behind between the circles and shoveled a quick pass to Messina at the side of the net.
Graham Slaggert’s empty netter in the final 30 seconds sealed the come-from-behind deal.
“Right place at the right time,” Messina said of his first of the USHL season. “Harry did all the work there. He worked his butt off, got on the guy’s stick and basically just handed to me on a silver platter. The rest was easy.”
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Former Rider Matt Gosiewski had a short-handed goal in Central Illinois’ second-period flurry, but Cedar Rapids got a power-play tally from defenseman Tyler Jubenvill and short-handed beauty from Roman Ahcan to close within a goal heading to the final period.
Neil Shea tied it at 3-3 just 2:45 into the third after C.R. stole another puck from behind against a Central Illinois defenseman. Goalie Blake Pietila, making his first USHL start, helped take care of the rest.
He could not be blamed for any of the Central Illinois goals, playing a strong game with 31 saves.
“I’ve got to thank my teammates for how they bounced back for me, came back for me. It was great,” he said. “For me, it was just worry about the next shot. You can’t do anything about the past.”
Before the game, it was announced RoughRiders defenseman Kyle Looft has commited to play college hockey at Bemidji State. Looft was acquired after the preseason in a trade from Dubuque.
Cedar Rapids again was without injured forward Marc McLaughlin and defenseman Jake Johnson. Forward Spencer DenBeste played his first game of the season.
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