116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — You talk to them, and, to a man, they tell you they can play with any team in the United States Hockey League.
The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders have beaten Dubuque, one of the top teams in the league, three straight times this season. They’ve played four games against the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Steel, and each one has been decided by a goal, two in overtime and one in a shootout.
“I think a lot of guys are stepping up,” said RoughRiders center Conor Lovett. “Some guys that maybe haven’t been in the lineup, everyone is stepping up. We’re headed in the right direction, for sure.”
The Riders split a home-and-home weekend series with Green Bay, losing in Wisconsin on Saturday night, 3-2, and winning at ImOn Ice on Sunday afternoon, 4-1. They’re 15-18-1-1 for 32 standings points, seventh of eight teams in the Eastern Conference, five points behind fifth-place Green Bay and Youngstown.
This club has been competitive, for sure, which is an accomplishment considering it is essentially an expansion franchise. Cedar Rapids didn’t play last season because of damage to its home rink, meaning a roster of mostly USHL rookies.
The RoughRiders have split their last six games, essentially a pattern of win one, lose one. If they can somehow get on a roll here, they could seriously threaten to make the USHL playoffs.
The top six teams in each conference get in.
“Oh, yeah. Sure,” Coach Mark Carlson said, when asked if he liked where his team is at overall right now. “We played without an entire line (Sunday night). I mean, Marty Lavins, Nate Hanley, Zacch Wisdom are all injured. Not that they play as a line, but those are three players that have played a lot for us. We’re battling, we’re getting better. I like how we’re playing.”
Adam Flammang has been C.R.’s best player all season. The Bemidji State commit has a team-best 18 goals and 31 points in 35 games.
Forward Andy Moore has seven goals in 33 games and a plus-minus rating of plus-11, which is really good for a team that has been outscored by 19 goals this season. Sunday afternoon’s overall performance was really good start to finish.
“The thing Coach talked about was in-zone offense,” Lovett said. “We’ve been working on that for a couple of weeks now. We continue to get better at it, and it showed.”
Iowa went 2-1 on the road last week, losing a midweek affair at Cincinnati, 6-3, then winning over the weekend at Toledo (6-5 in overtime) and Wheeling (4-1).
Kris Bennett got the OT winner against the Walleye, as he has returned after a lengthy stint with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League. Goaltender Hunter Jones, also just back from the Iowa Wild, made 33 saves in Sunday’s win over the Nailers.
The ever-changing roster also includes new goaltender Dereck Baribeau (sent down from the AHL), defenseman Darick-Louis Jean (signed after being released by ECHL’s Trois-Rivieres) and forwards Luke Nogard (acquired in a trade for future considerations from Atlanta of the ECHL) and Austin McIlmurray (acquired in a trade for future considerations from Toledo).
Heartlanders forward Jake Smith was named ECHL Rookie of the Month, it was announced last week. Smith had at least one point in 11 of his 13 January games, with five multi-point games.
The 24-year old from Pickering, Ontario, was picked up by Iowa after being released by the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks. The ECHL’s Player of the Month was Johnston native and former Cedar Rapids RoughRiders forward Chad Costello, who had nine goals and 11 assists in 15 January games.
The Utah Grizzlies make the long journey to Coralville for three games against the Heartlanders this week. The Grizzlies, an affiliate of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, are 26-15-2-1 for 55 standings points, in first place in the ECHL’s Mountain Division.
Iowa is 17-21-5-1, their 40 standings points tied with Indy for seventh and last in the Central Division. Wheeling is in fifth place with 45 standings points.
Games at Xtream Arena are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:05. Friday night is Faith and Family Night, with a Pink In The Rink promotion Saturday, with $2 of every online ticket going to Team Breast Friends.
The RoughRiders host the Chicago Steel on Friday night at 7:05, then travel Saturday night to Dubuque. Chicago leads the USHL’s Eastern Conference with 52 standings points, while Dubuque is third with 47.
Cedar Rapids is 3-0 against its Eastern Iowa rival this season. Friday night’s promotion is Marie’s Jewelers Diamond Giveaway Night.
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