CEDAR RAPIDS — The United States Hockey League begins its regular season this week in Pittsburgh again. It’s the second consecutive year each of the 16 teams in the league gets two games in the Steel City as part of what is called the Fall Classic.
The NHL has a lot to do with this seemingly goofy arrangement. Scouts from every club can gather in one spot for five days and get a good look at the individual talent on display.
Of the individual talents especially excited about that is Grant Silianoff of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. Like really, really excited.
“I know what type of player I am, and I think I can go in there and play my game and prove people wrong,” the second-year forward said. “I think if I go in there and play my game, that will help my team. We want four points. That’s our biggest thing. We’re going to focus on the first game.”
The first game is Thursday afternoon against Youngstown, the second Friday against Omaha at the UMPC Lemieux Sports Complex.
Silianoff feels he has a ton to prove this winter after being snubbed in the 2019 National Hockey League Draft. The 18-year-old Notre Dame commit from Edina, Minn., was ranked 60th among North American draft-eligible skaters by NHL Central Scouting last spring but wasn’t taken by any team.
Generally, 60th gets you selected as high as the fourth round of the seventh-round draft. Not this time.
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“Yeah, I was mad,” Silianoff said. “Every kid wants to get drafted. But if anything, it’s motivation. I’m not mad at a certain person or teams and stuff. They do their jobs and everything. Now it’s my job to prove why I think I should have been drafted. There’s always this year and the next year. Just got to stay positive with it.”
Silianoff agreed that his snub could have come about because of a troublesome right hand/wrist injury he played with the back half of last season that required surgery in May. To give you an indication of how bad his hand was, he said he couldn’t even perform a single push-up, and his stick handling strength was 30, as opposed to 110 in his left hand.
Initial X-rays didn’t show anything wrong, but a postseason MRI indicated Silianoff had broken his hamate bone completely off. That’s a wedge-shaped, hook-like bone in the bottom of the hand.
Surgery removed it and shaved some of the other surrounding bones in his hand in order for ligaments to have room to settle in the space.
“I was pumped to finally have it figured out and have surgery and stuff,” Silianoff said. “It affects so much on you. To be back and be able to do a push-up, lift weights and shoot a puck without having any pain, to stickhandle and not have any pain is great.
“I can tell a difference. I’m still getting more and more comfortable with shooting a puck and being able to place it where I want. You know, it was a long road. But I’m happy to be back right at 100 percent.”
A lot is expected of Silianoff, who had 18 goals and 41 points in 55 games in the 2018-19 regular season. He put up four points in three preseason games for the RoughRiders.
Silianoff is one of 10 guys who played at least one game last season for Cedar Rapids. The others are forwards Jordan Tonelli, Max Sasson, Nate Hanley, Jackson Jutting and Jack O’Leary, and defensemen Will Francis, Bennett Zmolek, Darian Gotz and Jack Millar.
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“Sili is going to be a great leader for us, on and off the ice,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “He’s been around the organization for a year, and he’s real hungry. He has a huge passion for the game, which we love.”
Carlson was asked if he appreciated Silianoff gutting out last season despite being injured.
“You always do,” he said. “That’s hockey, right? You’ve got to battle through it. I thought he showed real good toughness with that, for sure.”
Silianoff said he got invitations to some NHL teams’ development camps over the summer but could not attend any because he was rehabbing his hand. He really didn’t seem terribly upset by his draft snub, knowing if he plays well this season, he’ll likely get picked by someone in 2020.
“The draft is the draft,” Silianoff said. “It’s in the past now. If I did have a good hand, could I maybe have done better? Yeah. You never know. But at the end of the day, I didn’t get picked, and it’s motivation for everything. I’m not going to sit there and dwell on it or anything ... I just put it in the past.”
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