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CEDAR RAPIDS — Never in Mark Carlson’s 18 years as head coach and general manager of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders has someone been elevated to assistant captain’s status during a season, without it being necessitated by an injury to another player.
Dalton Messina was awarded the ‘A’ a month or so ago, a signal of his importance to this club. He scored his team-best 12th goal Friday night in a 6-2 loss to Dubuque at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
“He’s been a leader on this team since he’s been here,” Carlson said. “He personifies everything that I want to see from our team. He gets after it every day, he’s got some good grit to him, he’s team first, he’s vocal, he loves hockey. There’s just an awful lot to like about him. He’s been getting better every day, and I think his best days are ahead of him. He’s certainly a leader for us now, and he’s going to be a major, major leader for us next year.”
A Michigan native, Messina, 18, was acquired toward the end of the preseason in a trade with the Fargo Force. His offense has noticeably improved as the season has progressed, but that just scratches the surface of his value.
He’s a hard-scrabble player, a lunch-pail guy who never stops moving, never stops looking to make a hit on an opponent, never stops sticking up for his teammates. Off the ice, he’s unfailingly polite, a stand-up kid.
Yeah, that sounds like captain material, doesn’t it?
“It truly is an honor,” he said. “Obviously I never thought I’d been in this position my rookie year in the USHL. Like you said, it’s one of the first times (Carlson) has done that, and that means a lot to me as a player. To me, it shows what they think of me. I’m just happy to be here and happy to try and lead these guys the remaining part of the season.”
Dubuque scored three times in the second period to grab this game by the throat. Two of those goals came on the power-play, on tremendous individual efforts from wingers Colin Theisen and Quinn Preston.
Theisen’s toe-drag move and sniped shot past C.R. goaltender Drew DeRidder put the Fighting Saints on top, 2-0, at the 6:34 mark. Preston was able to retain control of a puck despite falling to his knees a short time later at the Riders blue line, maneuvered through a defenseman and rifled a shot home.
Messina’s goal 17 seconds into the third period made it a game and provided the RoughRiders with a ton of jump. But Theisen scored again seven minutes later, and Zach Solow added a goal a minute after that to put it away for Dubuque.
Defenseman Trevor Zins had a power-play goal late for Cedar Rapids (12-40-4), which hosts Waterloo on Saturday night.
“To be perfectly honest, that wasn’t our best game tonight,” Messina said.
“We didn’t compete the way we needed to at the beginning,” Carlson said. “They got a couple on the power play and a couple of odd-man rush goals, and it’s hard to win when those things happen.”
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