CEDAR RAPIDS — The Zmolek family has been good for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. Really good.
The Tonelli family is right up there, too.
Cedar Rapids selected Zack Tonelli with their ninth-round pick in Tuesday’s United States Hockey League Draft, Phase II. The 18-year-old captained his Taft School prep school team in Connecticut this past season.
Jordan Tonelli played two years for the RoughRiders and was this season’s captain. Their father is John Tonelli, who played over 1,000 games in the NHL and won four Stanley Cup championships.
Obviously, good bloodlines are important to RoughRiders Coach/General Manager Mark Carlson. Riese, Will and Bennett Zmolek all have played in Cedar Rapids (Bennett still plays here), their dad being former long-time NHLer Doug Zmolek.
“I think it’s important when you are able to make it work,” Carlson said. “I think you see similarities in those families that you mentioned. Just hard-working, great-character people. It runs throughout those entire families. That’s what we see with the Tonellis, for sure.”
The Riders drafted 20 players Tuesday in Phase II to go along with the nine players they nabbed Monday in Phase I. Add 16 guys the club protected (possible returnees from this past season and possible graduates from the 2019-20 affiliate roster of younger players), and there are your 45 players on the initial roster.
“I feel good about it,” Carlson said. “I know it’s redundant, but our whole staff worked hard. We thought we knew the player pool very well. We just tried to keep things simple by drafting good hockey players that are good, hard-working guys. We think it went well.”
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Cedar Rapids had the 15th-overall pick Tuesday and took prep school winger Doug Grimes. The 18-year-old Boston-area resident is a Boston University commit who piled up 23 goals and 48 points in 30 games this past season for Dexter Southfield School in Massachusetts.
He brings good size at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds. Cedar Rapids had two players from Dexter Southfield on its roster this past season in defenseman Ben Meehan and goaltender Derek Mullahy.
“We think he was one of the better two-way forwards, if not the top two-way forward in prep hockey this year,” Carlson said. “We were fortunate to have some success with Dexter guys last year ... We think he’s going to fall in line with some of the guys we’ve had from the Boston area and come from the prep schools that have come out to Cedar Rapids and done very, very well. We think he is going to follow that path."
Second-round pick Adam Flammang also is an 18-year-old winger from St. Michael, Minn., who had 32 goals in 25 games this past season for St. Michael-Albertville High School, where he was his team’s captain. He is a Bemidji State commit.
The RoughRiders went young in the third round, selecting 16-year-old left winger Patrick Johnson from St. Louis. He has been playing in the St. Louis Blues AAA youth program, whose vice president is NHL hall of famer Al MacInnis and whose coaches at various age levels include fellow former Blues NHL players Lubos Bartecko, Jeff Brown and Andy McDonald.
Carlson mentioned fifth-round pick Owen Cole as someone to keep an eye on. He’s a forward headed to Massachusetts-Lowell.
A kid with an intriguing background is 11th-round pick Dane Dowiak, a Pittsburgh-area forward who was the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s 2019 prep lacrosse player of the year. Dowiak is a Penn State commit for hockey only.
Cedar Rapids’ draft was American-centric, with 16 of the 20 picks coming from the United States. The RoughRiders drafted three kids from Canada and only one from Europe: 16-year-old Russian forward Ruslan Gazizov in the 17th round.
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That was likely partially intentional, considering the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty surrounding international players being willing to or able to travel here.
“It goes back to drafting with a simple approach,” Carlson said. “We would have done it that way regardless.”
Interestingly, the RoughRiders drafted only forwards and defensemen these two days, no goaltenders. That is understandable in that Aidan Harper is expected to return this coming season and 16-year-olds Andrew Pichora and Nick Simo both held their own in late-season USHL stints on emergency stints caused by injuries to main goalies Harper and Mullahy.
The RoughRiders are expected to have forward Justin Hryckowian return to the team for a second season in 2020-21, and they drafted his younger brother, Dylan, in Monday’s Phase I draft. Forward Cy LeClerc was drafted for a second consecutive year: he went in the eighth round
Tryout camp timing for the RoughRiders, not to mention the rest of the USHL, is uncertain at this point.
To see the entire Phase II draft, beginning with C.R.’s picks, click here.
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