CEDAR RAPIDS — Sometimes you forget that some of these kids in the United States Hockey League really are kids.
Alex Gagne is a kid. At 17, he’s the second youngest player on this Cedar Rapids RoughRiders team, behind only 16-year-old Belarussian Yegor Klavdiev.
Gagne is trying to get used to a much, much higher level of hockey. More importantly, he’s still adjusting to being on his own for the very first time.
“The biggest thing is living away,” the New Hampshire resident said. “It’s my first time actually being away from home for a long time. That’s one change off the ice. Just getting used to my billets, the schedule, the routine.”
Gagne and the rest of his teammates will get a chance to return home after this weekend’s road games at Sioux Falls and Sioux City. The USHL takes a short holiday break, before starting back up again a couple of days after Christmas.
The billet situation for him here has been great, he said. The Sheffner family in Fairfax has welcomed him with open arms and helped him combat homesickness.
“I call my mom and dad pretty much every night, at least talk to them every day,” Gagne said. “It’s kind of weird not coming home, walking in the door and saying ‘Hey, mom’ or ‘Hey, dad.’ But my billets have done a great job of welcoming me in and making me feel like part of the family. They include me in everything they do. My billets have three kids, and they all do sports, so it’s kind of nice. I’ll go to a football game for my younger brother, just to get out of the house and bond with them. That’s nice.”
Gagne doesn’t attend high school here but is taking three online classes that will transfer back to his school in New Hampshire and allow him to graduate from there.
“I’ll be able to walk with my old school in graduation, which is nice,” he said.
On the ice, the University of New Hampshire commit is coming off a weekend in which he scored his first USHL goal. Yes, he got to keep the puck as a memento.
The 6-foot-3 defenseman has scored five points in 13 games for the Riders, been in and out of the lineup, as you sometimes get with younger players. But there is a lot of promise in his game, without question.
“He has remained positive and played two nice games last weekend,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “He’s had a really good week of practice this week, too. He’s got real good poise, vision and size, has some grit to him. A real good balance there.”
“The biggest thing when I’m in the lineup, getting my chance, is I need to be more consistent,” Gagne said. “Every shift, every play. With that, it’s like Coach talks about every day, just being positive, having a smile on your face. I’ve been trying to do that more and more every day. Even on the ice, too. If I have a bad shift, I need to just get over it.”
Cedar Rapids has a 10-11-1 record, its 21 points placing it in sixth place in the eight-team Eastern Conference of the USHL. It will be without three players again this weekend who are on a United States team at the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge in Canada: forward Grant Silianoff and defensemen Jack Millar and Ben Meehan.
Carlson said top defenseman Will Francis, who had knee surgery last month, will miss the rest of the season. Francis was a draft pick this past summer of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks.
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