CEDAR RAPIDS — It might seem incredibly random, but it’s really not.
Who Coach Mark Carlson chooses to throw out there during a shootout for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders is a combination of knowing his players and some straight gut instinct.
“It’s a feel,” Carlson said, after the Riders beat the United States National Team Development Program’s U-17 team, 2-1, Saturday night in a shootout that turned sudden death. “We work on it in practice. It’s hard, too, because a lot of our guys don’t have experience with it.”
Jordan Tonelli was the hero here as the seventh shooter for C.R., which swept this two-game weekend series against The Program’s younger team. With dad, John, a multiple-time Stanley Cup winner with the New York Islanders in the house, Tonelli skated in and ripped a wrist shot past Team USA goalie Drew Commesso to win it.
Shootouts in the USHL are a best-of-3 thing normally, but Aidan McDonough scored as C.R.’s second shooter, with Team USA’s Eamon Powell tying it as the next guy attempting the mano-a-mano endeavor.
“I’m just thinking that if my name is called, I’m ready to go,” said Tonelli, who has just three goals in 46 games this season. “If not, I’m rooting on whoever is going. You’ve just got to always be ready, I guess, because you never know how many rounds it is going to go.”
Tonelli said he executed his game plan perfectly on his attempt.
“I saw a couple of our guys before me try and make moves,” he said. “So I said to myself, if I go, I’m just going to come down and shoot it.”
“It’s easy to say because he scored, but JT is someone who is always on my mind (for shootouts),” Carlson said. “He went in and buried it.”
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The RoughRiders (30-18-4, 64 points) won easily Friday night, 6-0, but this game was much, much tighter, obviously. Liam Walsh scored his 19th goal of the season on the power play 6:27 in, but Team USA tied it on a Landon Slaggert breakaway goal late in the first period.
His brother, Graham, played last season with the Riders. Slaggert’s goal was the only blemish on Cedar Rapids goalie Blake Pietila’s ledger all weekend.
Cedar Rapids outshot The Program, 23-10, allowing all of 19 shots on goal in these two games.
“We’re a defensive team, for sure,” Tonelli said. “We take a lot of pride in our own zone, back checking really hard, blocking shots. It’s good to see it pay off.”
Cedar Rapids is tied with Chicago for second place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference with 10 regular-season game remaining. That includes a home-and-home series this coming weekend with rival Waterloo.
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