Minor League Sports

Cedar Rapids RoughRiders seek to get on a roll down the stretch

Club needs a push to make USHL playoffs

Cedar Rapids RoughRiders' Max Sasson )12) looks for a shot against Team USA's Brock Faber (34) in their game at Cedar Ra
Cedar Rapids RoughRiders’ Max Sasson )12) looks for a shot against Team USA’s Brock Faber (34) in their game at Cedar Rapids Ice Arena in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — There was that early season game against Waterloo, in which they had a 3-1 lead and gave up three goals in the final 10 minutes, including one that beat them with 41 seconds left.

There was a game a week later at Omaha, in which they scored three goals late in the third to pull into a tie, only to lose by giving up a power-play goal with 13 seconds left.

There were the back-to-back-to-back games in mid-January, in which they lost in overtime (twice) and shootout. There was the game last weekend against Youngstown, in which they controlled play throughout, only to allow a goal with 27 seconds left to lose.

Bad beats, these Cedar Rapids RoughRiders have had a few this United States Hockey League season. More than a few.

“It’s about just putting it in the past and learning from it,” said RoughRiders forward Max Sasson, whose team played at home Friday night against Des Moines and will play Saturday night at Des Moines. “I think going down the stretch here, playing so many close games this year and being on the wrong side of them a couple of times ... Just keep playing until the end. Don’t think about the score, just beat the other team and outwork the other team.”

Cedar Rapids went into the weekend with a 15-18-4 record, their 34 standings points placing them in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and out of the playoffs as of now. But the Riders are just four points back of Muskegon and Youngstown, who both hold the final two available postseason spots in the division right now.

And there’s a lot of hockey left to be played, 25 games going into Friday for the RoughRiders. With all the tough losses thus far, the law of averages says this club will turn that bad luck around the rest of the way, right?

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“We have been in a lot of great, tight hockey games,” said Coach Mark Carlson. “It’s all how the coaching staff handles it, there is no doubt in my mind about that. We are positive with our guys and try to teach them the things they need to do. They’ve been very, very receptive.”

That 3-2 loss last Saturday night to Youngstown ended a three-game winning streak for the RoughRiders. That streak began with a pair of impressive victories over the Chicago Steel, who have the best record and most standings points in the USHL.

So Cedar Rapids has been playing some pretty good hockey. Carlson made an interesting move last week in picking up 19-year-old Slovakian forward Robert Dzugan, who scored five goals for his national team at the World Junior Championships last month.

Dzugan is considered a two-way player with exceptional skill. He is expected to bring significant help to his new team.

“I think we are understanding who we are as a team,” Carlson said. “The way the team is put together and the personnel that we have. We’re playing a good, hard team game. I think you are going to continue to see more of that as the season goes on. We’ve got guys who should be playing a little bit more that will be playing a little bit more. I think we’re starting to see some real good balance. I think the additions to the team that we’ve made have helped us.”

“Those two games against Chicago were big for our confidence,” Sasson said. “It definitely gave us a big boost. Then pulling that one out (last) Friday against Youngstown was nice. I thought we made some dumb mistakes in the third period, and that cost us the game (Saturday). But I thought we outplayed them both nights. Our confidence is at an all-time high right now. From top to bottom, I think we’re all just buying in. A lot of guys are playing their best hockey right now, which is where you want it.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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