RoughRiders drop home finale, 4-1, to Tri-City

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CEDAR RAPIDS — One more game.

That’s all that’s left in a disappointing 2016-17 season for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. The penultimate affair and home finale was Friday night, a loss to Tri-City, 4-1, before 2,794 fans at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.

That dropped the Riders to 12-43-4. Their 26 standings points are the fewest in the United States Hockey League and fewest in the franchise’s 18-year history.

The season concludes Saturday night at Dubuque.

“I do think the guys have come a long way this season,” RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson said. “I would have liked to have seen a couple more guys step up tonight, but they still have come a long way. One more game tomorrow.”

The reasons for the struggles have been well documented. Some players expected to return from last season’s Anderson Cup championship team ended up in college instead, others didn’t progress enough and were sent elsewhere.

Five players got suspended early in the season for a violation of team rules and were moved on to other teams.

This club lost its first 18 games, not picking up a win until November 24. After a sea of trades and other player additions, the RoughRiders did become competitive, without question.

These guys played very hard, much to their credit.

“I think our captains have done a really good job,” Carlson said. “Our guys have worked their tails off all year long. They stuck with it. I’m really proud of them. I think they’ve learned an awful lot.”

Next season should be vastly better, considering the high number of players eligible to return and by the fact Cedar Rapids will have the first pick both Phase I and Phase II of the 2017 USHL Draft.

Drew DeRidder more than held his own as a 16-year-old most-games goaltender and should be a backbone of next year’s team. Among the possible returnees on defense are Jakub Sirota, a possible NHL draft pick this summer.

Cedar Rapids goes into Saturday’s game having scored just 107 goals, by far the fewest in the USHL. That needs to improve.

The Riders went 0 for 7 on the power play Friday night, which went a long way toward deciding things. Robert Arrak had C.R.’s lone goal.

Just four guys are certain to move on to college next season: defensemen Ben Foley (Harvard) and Riese Zmolek (Minnesota State) and forwards Zac Robbins (Connecticut) and Justin Cole (American International. In theory, the rest of the team will have a chance to return.

Tryout camp should be very interesting.

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

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