116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders re-gathered Monday night for practice after having a week-long holiday break from the grind of the United States Hockey League season.
Well, most of the RoughRiders re-gathered.
A couple of players were caught up in the nationwide airline fiasco that’s due mostly to the Christmas blizzard. Another was at an urgent care facility in town getting checked out for some sort of illness.
That left head coach Mark Carlson briefly muttering something to himself about how it’s apparently impossible for his club to have a full complement of players for games. The RoughRiders kick things back up Wednesday night at home against the Chicago Steel, Friday night at home against Youngstown and Saturday at Dubuque.
“Just excited to get back playing again,” he said. “We’ve been playing a lot of good hockey lately. We’ve got to keep getting better and see who we have available ... We’ve never had access to the full lineup.”
And he’s not just talking this season. For the past four seasons they have been active, the RoughRiders always have had someone unavailable, whether it be because of injuries, illnesses or whatever.
The club sat out the 2020-21 USHL campaign because ImOn Ice was heavily damaged in August 2020 by a derecho.
“We don’t talk about it a lot,” Carlson shrugged. “You just move forward. It’s part of the game, it’s part of life. You just keep getting after it.”
Only defenseman Joe Schiller and forward Zaccharya Wisdom have played in all 23 games thus far for Cedar Rapids. Wisdom leads the team with 14 goals and 26 points.
For most of the rest of the guys, it has been a shoulder thing, or a foot thing, or a rash thing, or a sickness thing.
Jacob Kraft got to town for the opening of fall camp, only to be diagnosed with mononucleosis. First-year forward Connor Smith played well the first 10 games, but blew out his knee in practice and is done for the season.
Important second-year guys Liam Lesakowski and Andy Moore have been limited to eight and nine games, respectively, because of injury. Forward Josh Karnish, another important second-year guy, hasn’t played at all, yet, because of an upper-body injury.
The RoughRiders have a 10-10-2-1 record for 23 standings points. That places them in seventh place in the eight-team Eastern Conference, though they’re a point out of sixth, two points out of fourth, five points out of third and six points out of second.
In other words, they are a winning streak away from being in a really good spot. A full lineup would help with that, obviously.
“I think the team has improved a lot, which is what the season is all about,” Carlson said. “Guys have certainly improved a ton. I think both of our special teams have improved considerably over the last six weeks or so.”
To Carlson’s point, Cedar Rapids ranks fourth in the league in power-play efficiency and fifth in penalty killing.
“We’ve been doing a good job of scoring. That’s been a real plus for us,” he said. “We’ve played pretty well defensively as well. I like our game, I like our team. I think we’ve done an awful lot well.”
The Iowa Heartlanders
Ah, the vagaries of the schedule.
The Iowa Heartlanders head to Independence, Mo., this weekend for games Friday and Saturday nights against the Kansas City Mavericks. Make that head back to Independence, Mo.
They played a pair of pre-Christmas games there last week, dropping both, 2-1 and 4-1. Tyler Busch and Zach White had the goals for Iowa.
The Heartlanders are 6-12-6-1 for 19 standings points. That’s seventh and last in the ECHL’s Central Division, though they are just eight points out of third place.
Following this road trip, Iowa heads home for three games at Xtream Arena against the Indy Fuel. The dates there are Wednesday, Jan. 4, Friday the sixth and Saturday the seventh.
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