CEDAR RAPIDS — Could this be 1999-2000 all over again?
The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders played virtually the first half of their inaugural season on the road awaiting the construction completion of the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
The hockey club had a couple of “home” games at Waterloo’s Young Arena, otherwise it was all roadies until Jan. 8, 2000, its first game at the arena: a shootout win over the old Rochester Mustangs.
The United States Hockey League announced Tuesday an initial return-to-play plan that includes beginning the 2020-21 regular season Nov. 6. If you’ve seen ImOn Ice, you find it very difficult to believe it would be ready for play anytime even close to November.
“The first thing I would say about the arena is that we are saddened it was hit that hard,” said RoughRiders Coach, General Manager and President Mark Carlson. “But as an organization, we really feel for all the people and all the families that were hit in our community. We have been out in the community and know what people are going through and the challenges that many, many families have.
“We want to get the arena up and running as fast as we can. But we also have a tremendous amount of feeling and sadness for what has happened here. That is in the forefront of our thoughts right now.”
Carlson has been out and about helping in anyway he can, the same as he did during the historic 2008 flood that did so much damage to Cedar Rapids. He has an affinity for the area along Ellis Blvd. NW, where he lived when he first came to town to coach the RoughRiders in 1999 and expressed particular dismay at the situation so many there are going through again, just 12 years after the flood.
He lauded the USHL’s initial return plan, which was created by league President and Commissioner Tom Garrity, with the input of the league’s 15 franchises and USA Hockey, which runs the United States National Team Development Program. The USNTDP plays a full USHL schedule.
The plan is for each team to play 54 regular-season games from Nov. 6 to April 24, 2021, with flexibility to play more games at the back end of that time frame if needed. Players are to report to their clubs over a four-week period beginning Sept. 14, with preseason games scheduled for sometime in middle October.
The USHL said all activities “are designed to take place in accordance with local, state and federal (health) guidelines, as well as the league’s Return To Play Protocols,” which are still being finalized.
“The league spent a lot of time on this throughout the summer,” Carlson said. “All of the owners and Commissioner Garrity put a lot of hard work into it. They have worked with the experts and researched. This is the best thing as of now. I think the league can evaluate as we go.”
Damage to ImOn Ice was very extensive on the Olympic-sized ice sheet side of the arena, with a huge hole blown through the back end. Carlson said a concrete wall that separated that side from the arena lobby also was destroyed, as was a wall on the NHL/RoughRiders side near where the team sold merchandise.
Part of the roof on one end of the NHL side also was blown off. The RoughRiders locker room was flooded because sprinklers went off during the storm.
Certainly the club will have to look elsewhere to practice, if the USHL’s timeline even holds. In 1999-2000, it practiced every day on the ice sheet at the Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville.
Xtream Arena is a brand new arena and athletic training center in Coralville that is nearing completion and also could be a temporary option.
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“As far as players reporting, there is a wide-open window there of five weeks: from Sept. 14 to sometime in October,” Carlson said. “For us here, we are certainly going to lean toward the side of safety. We would bring our players in probably a little bit on the later side. More toward October. And that’s regardless of if we would have had ice or not.
“Then we’ll have to see where can practice and how we can move forward.”
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