CEDAR RAPIDS — As far as starts to the season go, this one can’t have gone much better. At least through four games.
The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders waxed the United States National Team Develoment Program’s 17-U squad again Saturday night, 5-1, at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
The Riders beat The Program’s youngsters Friday night, 8-4, in the home opener. They have four United States Hockey League regular-season wins in the bank in as many tries and have scorched the net for 23 goals.
“Pretty good effort,” said Riders Coach Mark Carlson. “We learn lots of things every time we play. There were lots of things we liked tonight, but lots of stuff to work on.”
Cedar Rapids has been so dominant early.
It has yet to trail in any game, which is impressive enough. Then consider the RoughRiders have played 240 total minutes and have had the lead for 174:18.
“We have a young group, and we know that,” said second-year winger Jack O’Leary, in a raucous locker room. “But the guys in here really love to work, and that’s what I think it is. We have fun every day at the rink, and that’s key. We have really good chemistry early on, and that’s huge. You usually have that on teams midway through the season, but I think we have that super early. You see everybody in here kind of going crazy right now. We just have really good chemistry, and we love working. We’ve definitely got to keep that going, but we’re on a pretty good high right now.” O’Leary had a goal and an assist, the only RoughRiders to have a multi-point night. That’s been another key for this team thus far, being able to roll four forward lines and three defense pairings without losing a beat.
Cedar Rapids scored three times in a span of 2:42 early in the second period to take the lead and run away. O’Leary’s goal came at the 58-second mark, with Jackson Jutting making it 2-0 at 3:29 and Max Sasson 3-0 just 11 seconds later.
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Justin Hryckowian and defenseman Ben Meehan had goals in the third period. A whopping 13 different RoughRiders already have goals through four games and 17 players have scored at least one point.
“We knew we had to be better. We didn’t have a good first period,” O’Leary said. “We kind of just got a little good energy. The first couple shifts were good, and we just kind of built off that and worked from there. We got those three goals early on, and that was a big momentum booster.”
Shamil Shmakov had 21 saves for the win in net. The 20-year-old Russian, a Colorado Avalanche draft pick in 2018, takes up a ton of net at 6-foot-8.
C.R.’s other NHL pick, defenseman Will Francis, served the first of a two-game suspension Saturday night for a hit in Friday night’s game that wasn’t even called a penalty. The RoughRiders play Friday night at Waterloo.
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