CEDAR RAPIDS — Sidney Crosby scared him. Scared the heck out of him.
“Yeah, it was off and on, but I tried to stay positive,” the Riders center said. “I knew I was feeling better every day, knew I was getting better. When you have that one bad day, though, you’re always looking for excuses why you had that headache. Stuff like ‘Maybe I haven’t eaten today. Maybe I was sleeping bad.’ I knew I was going to get back sometime. I just didn’t know when.”
“When” turned out to be last weekend. Saracino returned to the lineup after a month and-a-half absence because of a concussion from a late January automobile accident. The Riders’ leading scorer and top plus-minus player had an assist in two games as he eases his way back into playing shape.
“I felt a little slow last weekend, but I think it’ll come more and more,” Saracino said. “I’m just trying to keep it simple, do the little things right. Get myself back into it.”
In many ways, “Cino” is fortunate. A lot of NHL players miss considerable time with post-concussion problems, most notably Pittsburgh Penguins star Crosby, who is supposed to get back onto the ice soon after lengthy absences.
“You never know (with concussions),” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “I think they are looked at completely differently today. ... Jaromir Jagr said the other day that when he first got to the NHL, you took an aspirin, got better and kept playing.”
Saracino said he began full-contact practices two weeks ago. He said he tries not to think about getting hurt again, because that’s liable to increase his chances.
“When I gave my first hit was when I was most nervous,” he said. “But once I got into the game, I didn’t even think about it. I just wanted to win and do whatever it took to win.”
The RoughRiders have gone six games without a regulation loss going into a big home weekend against East rivals Dubuque and Green Bay. They’re finally getting everyone healthy and seem to be making that run they haven’t been able to accomplish yet this season.
There are 11 games left in the regular season.
“I think they’re coming together as a group,” Carlson said. “They’re playing more responsible as a group and being more dependable for each other. (Goalie Jake) Hildebrand has played real well. We’ve gotten some guys back also. We just want to keep getting better here.”
ON TAP: Cedar Rapids RoughRiders host Dubuque Friday night and Green Bay Saturday night at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, about 7:15 both nights.
SCOUTING REPORT: The RoughRiders (22-18-9, 53 points) have not lost in regulation in their last six games. They are firmly in fifth place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference, seven points in back of fourth-place Dubuque. There are 11 games left in the regular season. Green Bay far and away leads the league with 82 points, on a 40-8-2 record.
PROMOTIONS: Saturday is Go Green Night in honor of St. Patrick’s Day with a postgame skate with players.
TICKETS: $10 to $20 at box office, (319) 261-4625, or www.ridertownusa.comON THE AIR: KMJM-AM (1360)