CEDAR RAPIDS — The greatest individual goal-scoring effort in Cedar Rapids RoughRiders history helped make Saturday night’s regular-season finale really, really important.
Jason Polin scored five times, four alone in the third period, as Cedar Rapids rallied past Fargo, 6-3, in the home finale Friday night at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
Make that the regular-season home finale. The RoughRiders (35-21-5) are assured of a United States Hockey League playoff berth and still have a puncher’s chance at second place in the Eastern Conference and the corresponding first-round playoff bye.
They’ll need help, as Chicago is your second-place team going into Saturday, with Youngstown and Cedar Rapids both a standings point behind. The RoughRiders lose out on all tiebreakers, so they must win at Central Illinois and have Chicago lose in regulation to Eastern Conference champ Muskegon and Youngstown lose to Team USA.
Never say never.
“That’s why it’s always day by day here,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson.
Polin’s day here was something else. He tied the game at 1-1 with a 4-on-4 goal midway through the first period and absolutely went off in the third.
His power-play goal 1:10 in re-tied things at 3-3, then he put the RoughRiders up for good at the 6:10 mark by burying a Fargo turnover in front. His deft tip of a Will Zmolek point shot with 8:29 left made it a third-period hat trick.
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He outbattled a Force opponent for a loose puck with 3:21 left and scored into an open net for goal five.
“It was a great experience, an unreal feeling,” Polin said. “I’m very excited, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. They set me up perfectly. A couple were just tap-ins, really. I can’t give them enough credit for that. A great feeling. But, at the same time, I just need to calm down, because there’s a big game tomorrow to worry about.”
This is the third season in Cedar Rapids for Polin, 19, a Holt, Mich., native who has committed to play college hockey at Western Michigan. He was beset by injuries his first two seasons, but this unprecedented outburst gave him 30 goals this season.
That’s special in any league, especially in the USHL, where goals can be hard to come by.
“I think it’s more about our team,” Carlson said. “The guys really competed tonight. The second half of the game, we played really well. So, for me, it’s about the way they competed. It’s great to see Polin score. He has improved a ton. It’s more about his overall game, to me. Everything that he’s doing. Not just the scoring.”
If the RoughRiders don’t get a first-round bye, a best-of-3 series against either Team USA or Dubuque would be at the Ice Arena on Monday and Tuesday nights, with an if-necessary game Wednesday night.
If Cedar Rapids gets a first-round bye, its best-of-5 second-round series would begin next weekend at The Stable.
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