From Russia with love (or fists) for Riders' Kravchenko (w/video)

Scrappy forward quickly becoming a fan favorite

Dennis Kravchenko
Dennis Kravchenko

CEDAR RAPIDS — Gymnastics are in his bloodlines, but you’d never know it by watching Dennis Kravchenko play hockey.

Yes, there’s a lot of tumble in the Cedar Rapids RoughRider rookie forward’s game. But that’s as in rough and tumble.

Kravchenko has impressed with his fearlessness in the three weeks since he joined the club from Wichita Falls (Texas) of the lower-level North American Hockey League. He’s not afraid to run into an opponent, or fight him, despite being listed at a mere 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds.

The kid is quickly becoming popular with the fans because of his playing style.

“I’m not the biggest, but I’m not afraid to get in there,” Kravchenko said. “Before, I wouldn’t fight, but once I started juniors, something just clicked ... This year, I just started making more of a mess, I started fighting. My trainer last year, he taught me how to fight, and that helped out a lot.”

Just look at his statistics at Wichita Falls for proof Kravchenko, 17, isn’t afraid to make more of a mess. He amassed 75 penalty minutes in 30 games and has nine in five games for the Riders, who host Waterloo and Chicago this weekend. That included a memorable scrap with Sheldon Dries of Green Bay two weeks ago that had to be stopped by the linesmen for fear of injury to Dries.

Of course, there is considerably more to Kravchenko than fighting. He had nine goals for Wichita Falls and has one for Cedar Rapids. A fast skater, he is committed to play college hockey at Vermont.

Kravchenko was a Future’s Draft pick of the RoughRiders two years ago and was stashed on the club’s Affiliate List until Riders Coach Mark Carlson felt he was ready for the United States Hockey League. That happened to be over the holiday break.

“It’s a big jump for him here, but so far he’s doing a nice job,” Riders Coach Mark Carlson said. “He’s going to be a real good player.”

“I had a lot of fun in the NAHL, had a lot of respect for my coach and all the other players,” Kravchenko said. “It was kind of a tough decision to leave. But Vermont and my parents all thought I should come here, so here I am.”

Kravchenko’s parents, Vladimir and Olga, are from Russia, emigrating to the United States before Dennis was born. The family lives in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Vladimir Kravchenko was a gymnast in his youth, a sport Dennis tried — briefly.

“Yeah, I did it when I was really young,” he said. “But that was it.”

ON TAP: The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders host the Waterloo Black Hawks Thursday and Chicago Steel Saturday night at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. Opening faceoff both nights is approximately 7:15.

SCOUTING REPORT: The RoughRiders (12-11-7, 31 points) split a pair of games last weekend, losing at Dubuque and beating Tri-City at home. They go into the weekend fifth in the USHL’s Eastern Conference. Cedar Rapids is 7-1-4 at home this season. Waterloo is 14-9-4 for 32 points, third in the Western Conference. Chicago has 19 points (9-19-1), which is last in the East.

PROMOTIONS: Saturday night is Ladies Night at The Stable. There is $1.50 soda, beer and popcorn.

TICKETS: $10 to $20 at the Arena box office (261-4625) or online at THE AIR: KMJM-AM (1360)