Elite League the Next Step for AAA RoughRiders

By Matt Mackinder
Colorado Rubber Magazine

      In the words of Rocky Mountain RoughRiders director of hockey operations Derek Robinson, the organization is “a pretty good story.”

Now in their third year of operation, the RoughRiders have a direct affiliation with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League (USHL) and have sent more than a dozen players to various levels of junior hockey in their short existence.

Robinson said the RoughRiders were formed to create a AAA hockey presence in Northern Colorado.

“A lot of passionate people came together to make this work,” said Robinson. “The first year was very successful for us and last year was even better. Our goal is to not only move our players onto higher levels, but to also develop our coaches.”

Now with three teams in the Tier I Elite League (14U, 16U and 18U) as well as separate 13U and 15U teams, the RoughRiders played last year in the North American Prospects Hockey League (PHL) and were the only club to have 14U, 16U and 18U teams in the league playoffs where the 18U team lost in the finals and the 14U squad won the championship.

“We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the PHL, but it made sense to make the jump this year (to the Elite League),” Robinson said. “That’s by no means a knock on the PHL at all; it was a great league to be a part of.”

The RoughRiders join the Colorado Rampage and Colorado Thunderbirds as the third program from the Centennial State to compete in the Elite League.

“We’re excited to be a member and I know all three of our teams will have a big challenge this year,” said Robinson. “All of our teams play very tough schedules and that’s by design. The scouts want to see teams play the best and we want to have a good showing this year.

“The 16U and 18U teams play 40-plus-game schedules in Tier I and the 14s play at a couple showcases - that’s definitely great exposure for us.”

Robinson credits the astute coaching staffs the RoughRiders have assembled as a key to the lateral moves.

“They’ve played at every level and know what it takes to play this game and move up in this game,” he said of the program’s coaches. “Our philosophy is based on development and not all about wins and losses and championships. If we’re moving kids on, then the wins will come.”

Admittedly, youth hockey in Colorado doesn’t have the following and participation of organizations in areas like Michigan, Minnesota and the East Coast, but, one day, Robinson hopes players join the 13U team and play all the way through.

“Realistically, yeah, I’d love to see that happen,” Robinson said. “We like to move players on early, so if a kid is ready for juniors after playing 16U, then we’re all for him moving on and each year we discuss how early we want to start players at the AAA level.

“I think it’s more about teaching kids what AAA hockey is all about. Before they make that jump, these kids need to know how to play the game and, for some, it’s a tough transition.”

Robinson, though, couldn’t be happier with the direction the RoughRiders are heading.

“Since our first year until now, it’s night and day,” he said. “We’re continuing to grow slowly but surely and, at the end of the day, that’s really the right way.”

March 31 Box
April 7 Box
April 4 Box
April 13 Box

Latest Videos From RiderVision
Ridertown USA Powered by Metro StudiosRiderwear Logos