Minor League Sports

Fresh off successful USHL Fall Classic, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders return for first 2 home games

USNTDP U-16s come to town Friday and Saturday

Cedar Rapids RoughRiders head coach Mark Carlson talks to his team during the first period of their United States Hockey League game against the Fargo Force at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, April 12, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids RoughRiders head coach Mark Carlson talks to his team during the first period of their United States Hockey League game against the Fargo Force at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, April 12, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The process of it hasn’t changed much over the years.

The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders conduct a Media Day event sometime during the week before their first home game at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. It consists of head coach/general manager Mark Carlson, his assistants and a couple of returning players.

But the 2019 version of Media Day had a twist Wednesday. Carlson, first-year assistant Vinny Bohn and goaltending coach Bobby Goepfert still sat at a table and answered questions.

Also in attendance, dressed dapperly in khakis and team-issued, collared shirts, were each member of this RoughRiders team. Every single kid, except defenseman Michael Suda, who was predisposed with classes at Cedar Rapids Washington High School.

“I thought we would have our entire team come out,” Carlson said. “For the sole reason that I think the success of this group will be based upon the entire team. I don’t think there will be one guy that will kind of lead the way. I think it’s going to be everybody contributing every single night. So I thought it would be appropriate to invite the entire group here.”

That entire group produced a 2-0 record last week at the United States Hockey League’s Fall Classic in Pittsburgh. The RoughRiders crushed Youngstown, 6-2, and Omaha, 4-1.

Seven different players scored goals for C.R., including a hat trick from first-year winger Robby Newton against Youngstown. Newton also had a pair of assists in the two games and went a combined plus-five.

Welcome to the league, kid.

“It went a lot better than I ever thought it would have,” the 18-year-old from Milwaukee said. “I think it was my linemates (left winger Tyler Rollwagen and center Justin Hryckowian). My linemates are definitely who I have to give the credit to. They just worked really hard, we worked well down low. The whole team, just shift after shift. It felt like we wore down the other team.”

Which goes back to what Carlson said at the beginning of this story.

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“I saw a lot of guys playing loose and just having fun playing hockey,” said second-year forward Max Sasson. “I think this time of year, guys get their first USHL game or whatever, (and) I think they tend to have some trouble and have some nerves at first. Kind of gripping the stick too tight. But, honestly, I saw a whole group of guys that went out there, weren’t thinking about who was in the crowd, how many colleges were there, how many pro teams were there scouting. They were just having fun playing the game and trying to win. That’s one thing we did, and, hopefully, we can keep that attitude going forward.”

“I thought we worked hard, and, for this time of year, did a pretty good job of playing as a team,” Carlson said. “We got contributions from a lot of guys. But, as a team, a lot of things still to improve on and work hard at here.”

The RoughRiders have their home opener Friday night against the United States National Team Development Program’s U-16 Team and also host The Program’s youngsters Saturday night. Puck drop is 7:05 both nights.

Cedar Rapids has eight guys who played large amounts here last season, though forward Jordan Tonelli is on Injured Reserve. Sasson, Grant Silianoff, Nate Hanley and Jack O’Leary are the other experienced guys up front, with Will Francis, Jack Millar and Bennett Zmolek the more seasoned defensemen.

Francis was a sixth-round draft pick of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks this past summer. C.R.’s other draft pick is goaltender Shamil Shmakov.

The 6-foot-8 Russian, who was acquired in a preseason trade from Lincoln, was a seventh-rounder of the Colorado Avalanche in 2018.

He and Derek Mullahy each got a game at the Fall Classic and performed well. Shmakov, in North America for the first time, made 30 saves in the Omaha win, Mullahy 27 in the Youngstown victory.

“They are both really different,” Francis said. “Derek is very athletic, very quick. He’s just a great goalie, in general. Shamil is really big, covers a lot of net. Obviously another great goalie. Both different styles, but I think they both are going to help us out a lot.”

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

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