CEDAR RAPIDS — A few observant Cedar Rapids RoughRiders fans have noticed that Grant Silianoff has been wearing a full, clear facemask for games this week, and they’ve wondered why.
The answer is Silianoff took a wayward stick just above the left eye from a Waterloo opponent in a game last weekend and got stitches. He doesn’t want the cut to re-open.
With that little tidbit of probably not very interesting hockey knowledge out of the way, we can talk about the right winger’s first season in the United States Hockey League. It has been a good one.
“Coming in as a first-year guy, I think I’ve played pretty good, but there are always things I can improve on,” Silianoff said, after his two goals helped lift the Riders past Dubuque, 6-3, Friday night at the Ice Arena. “We’ve been playing good lately, and I think it helps when you have a good team to play on.”
That good team inched within one point of Chicago for second place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference, with a game in hand. Aidan McDonough had an empty net goal and three assists for the RoughRiders (33-18-5), who play Saturday night at Sioux Falls.
Silianoff scored a power-play goal midway through the first period off a rush down the left side, then added another goal late in the period after being the recipient of an awful Dubuque turnover deep in its own zone. Both of these markers were snipes.
The 18-year-old from Edina, Minn., has 18 goals and 40 points in 49 games this season. Even better news is he will play one more season in Cedar Rapids before heading to Notre Dame for his college career.
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“Sili’s been really good,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “He has improved all year long. Each week that goes by he is playing better and better. He is really great in the room, a great character guy. He has been a really, really valuable player for our team. How many first-year guys come in and play on the power play, play on the penalty kill from day one?”
Silianoff has. He’s likely to get taken this summer by someone in the 2019 National Hockey League Draft, too.
Not that he’s thinking much about that right now.
“You think about it, but not a lot,” he said. “I just want to be here and win ballgames, you know? That’s what it’s all about.”
Cedar Rapids has been on a roll, winning 13 of its 16 games since Feb. 9. That 13-2-1 record has allowed it to creep up the standings, clinch a USHL playoff berth and be in position for a possible first-round bye.
The top two teams in the division get those. Muskegon is in first place, six points ahead of Chicago and seven up on the Riders.
Cedar Rapids has six regular-season games remaining.
“I think we’ve been improving all year,” Carlson said. “We’ve gotten some people back healthy, too, and that’s helped us. We’ve gotten as close to a full lineup as we’ve had. We haven’t had a full lineup all season. That’s just facts. But our guys are working hard, and they’re improving. Blake (Pietila) is doing a nice job (in net). We’re working at it. We’ve got a long way to go, yet. There are a million things we could have done better tonight.”
“I think everybody is buying in,” Silianoff said. “We pride ourselves on playing a team game. Obviously, with defense first and trusting everybody, that’s been a big reason why we’ve been successful.”
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