CEDAR RAPIDS — Jason Polin got a hat trick for Christmas. One of the natural variety and in the first period, no less.
The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders unwrapped a victory. The other present they hope, at least eventually, is a full team.
The United States Hockey League holiday break arrived after Saturday night’s 5-2 win over Central Illinois at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. The Riders go into it feeling pretty good.
“I think we’ll have a strong second half,” Polin said. “I truly believe that.”
They are 12-11-3, their total of 27 standings points placing them in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. When they resume play with five straight home games, beginning Dec. 28 against Youngstown, they’ll have at least four guys back in the fold.
Goalie Blake Pietila, forward Grant Silianoff and defensemen Dmitry Deryabin and Mitchell Miller will have come back from the respective international tournaments in which they are participating right now. Five more players are injured, but perhaps Santa Claus will bring them the gift of returning to the lineup.
“Everyone to be healthy,” Polin said, when asked what present he hoped his team gets. “I’m tired of seeing guys being injured. I dealt with it myself last year (a broken jaw). I just want to see everyone back and going.”
“We haven’t seen our full team for even one game,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “I like the group. I think we’ve got a good group of character guys ... We’ve got to get through this. We’re playing without eight or nine guys here, and that’s what it is. But the guys that have been playing have done a tremendous job.”
Polin scored his 10th, 11th and 12th goals of the season: at 1:32, 8:19 and 16:47 of the first. His final two goals were power-play rebounds.
You don’t see something like what he did very often. And it came in front of his future college coach at Western Michigan, Andy Murray, who was in the house.
“Anytime you can score a hat trick in this league, it’s something special,” Polin said. “I’ve been struggling lately, and I just really wanted to come out and help the team tonight. The bounces came our way, and I was able to bury the opportunities.”
Aidan McDonough scored in second period for a 4-0 Riders lead. Goalie Troy Kobryn posted his first USHL shutout Friday night in a win at Madison and was on the verge of back-to-back jobs until Central Illinois scored two power-play goals in the final 10 minutes.
Nathan Smith scored into an empty net for the final margin.
“I think our guys have shown a lot of mental toughness here over the last number of weeks,” Carlson said. “We’ve played some pretty good hockey. There is a long way to go, tons of improvement to be made. But there are certainly a number of positives.”
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