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Max Sasson sings the National Anthem, gets NHL Network TV time ... and plays every game for the C.R. RoughRiders

RoughRiders forward Max Sasson (12) collides with YOungstown’s Connor MacEachern as they go after the puck in the first period at a RoughRiders hockey game with the Youngstown Phantoms at Cedar Rapids Ice Arena in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018.  (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
RoughRiders forward Max Sasson (12) collides with YOungstown’s Connor MacEachern as they go after the puck in the first period at a RoughRiders hockey game with the Youngstown Phantoms at Cedar Rapids Ice Arena in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — One of the best weeks of Max Sasson’s hockey life might never have happened if he hadn’t taken a chance. A couple of times.

The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders forward sang the National Anthem on an emergency basis last week before a game at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. The scheduled performer begged out at the last moment, creating this opportunity.

Tammy Carlson, RoughRiders Community Outreach Director, reached out to team captains Liam Walsh, Jason Polin and Kyle Looft to see if they would suggest a replacement singer from the team. Sasson was their answer.

“Polin told her ‘Sass is a good singer,’” Sasson said. “They were like ‘You have to do it.’ So I was kind of pressured into it. But I was happy to do it.”

Because of his bravery, if not his singing skills, Sasson was interviewed live earlier this week on the NHL Network. E.J. Hradek of the network knows Riders assistant coach Bobby Goepfert well, saw a video clip of Sasson and reached out to the coach about a possible interview.

Sasson ended up doing about a five-minute segment.

“(Hradek) called me and asked if I would come on their show,” Sasson said. “I was like ‘The NHL Network? Yes. Of course.’ We set up a time. It’s really just a FaceTime call is how it works. They FaceTimed me, and that was about it.

“I think being on the NHL Network made me a lot more nervous, to be honest. I don’t really know why. When I sang the National Anthem, I really wasn’t that nervous.”

The 18-year-old from Redford, Mich., a Detroit suburb, never would have been in position to do either of those things had he not accepted an invitation late this past summer to tryout for the RoughRiders. He seriously considered not coming to town for C.R.’s 40-man camp when Riders assistant coach Ben Kinne initially phoned him about it.

Sasson said his advisor told him Cedar Rapids had another player back out of the camp, with Sasson’s invite a superfluous one. RoughRiders Coach/General Manager Mark Carlson phoned Sasson the following day and insured him that was not the case.

It wasn’t, because Sasson ended up making the team. All set to return to Brookings of the lower-level North American Hockey League, he is in the United States Hockey League instead.

“Me and my dad always talk about that,” Sasson said. “It’s pretty crazy, to be honest, that I was ready to go back to Brookings. I had my billet family set up again, was probably going to be captain. The next thing you know, I’m here, and I couldn’t be happier. This has been the greatest thing ever.”

Sasson is one of three players who went into the weekend having played in every regular-season game for the RoughRiders. Walsh and defenseman Will Zmolek are the others.

Cedar Rapids played Friday night at Dubuque, plays Saturday night at home against Tri-City and travels Sunday to Green Bay.

“Coming into the season, I was a free agent that got picked up,” Sasson said. “Coach said ‘If you want to be in the lineup, you’ve got to bring it every single day in practice.’ Literally from day one, I think I’ve been locked in, focused on practice. That’s what he really bases the games on. So I’ve been fortunate enough to be on a line every night.

"Then just securing my role in the lineup as a good faceoff guy, a defensive guy is a positive for me. Being a character guy as well. I’ve been really fortunate this year with injuries. Our trainer, Ipper (Chris Ipson), he does a great job of recovering us quick. I’ve had some bumps and bruises, but he has helped recover me quick. I take a lot of ice baths. That’s kind of what I have always prided myself on, being there every single day for my teammates.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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