These RoughRiders Aren't Green
Cedar Rapids, IA-There was a rebuilding major league baseball club a few years back that came up with “Get To Know ‘Em” as its marketing slogan. Not really clever stuff, but, whatever.
The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders could just as easily steal that moniker this season and use it in reverse. As in “Already Know ‘Em.”
Of the 27 guys in camp heading into Thursday night’s preseason game against Dubuque at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, 15 already had played for the Riders. Particularly in this day and age of the United States Hockey League, you don’t get that stability on a roster very often.
It has got to be an advantage.
“You’d like to think so, but I’m not one to say it’s for sure,” said Riders Coach Mark Carlson. ”Guys have got to prove that they’ve gotten better. Just because it’s your second year doesn’t automatically mean that you’re better. You’ve got to do the training, understand your responsibilities, preparation, all those things. But I like what we have here.”
“It’s nice to have a lot of returners just because the guys know what to expect going into it,” said goaltender Cody Campbell. “We’ll be used to playing in front of a lot of fans and everything else. But I think having so many guys back helps more in the locker room … I think that’s going to play a big role in how our team does this year.”
This is a group with lofty expectations, for sure. The Riders went 38-19-3 last season, finishing second in the East Division to Clark Cup champion Green Bay.
There’s tons of USHL experience on the roster and even some college experience in goalie Brady Hjelle, a transfer from Minnesota-Duluth. There’s an NHL draft pick in forward Michael Parks (Philadelphia Flyers) and an emerging star in center Cason Hohmann, who played terrific hockey for a United States team that won a silver medal at an August international tournament in Slovakia.
“We set high goals for ourselves every year,” said defenseman Andy Simpson. “We expect to win a championship. That’s our biggest goal for the year.”
It’ll be interesting to see who survives the final cut once the USHL regular-season opener rolls around Oct. 2 at Waterloo. The home opener is Oct. 9 against Fargo.
The RoughRiders must get down to 23 players for their regular-season roster and can stash five more younger players on an affiliate roster. Those guys could practice and play in a limited amount of games.
Campbell and Hjelle are set in net, forming what you would think would be the best goaltending tandem in the league. Up front, Parks and Hohmann are joined by returnees Jayson Megna, Nick Lappin, Stu Wilson, Sam Warning, Peter Sakaris, Stephen Collins and Justin Kovacs.
On the blueline, returnees are Simpson, Nolan Zajac and Tommy Fallen.
“I think we can get around pretty good,” Carlson said. “And I think we’ve got a lot of grit. Some of our guys might not be the biggest, but they’ve got a competitive attitude going against each other. I think that’s going to be a fun part of this team. Everyone is willing to lay it on the line. I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of difference between our top guys and our guys that are new. Speed-wise and competitive-wise, I don’t think you’re going to see a difference.”
Perhaps the most interesting newcomer is 14-year-old defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, who already has committed to Boston University. He’ll turn 15 in late October, which is the minimum age requirement for the league.
Also interesting is the presence of three Europeans. Forwards Teemu Aarnio (Finland), Michal Toman (Slovakia) and Vladimir Shalimov (Russia) all are in camp.
Carlson had said he was done recruiting European players but has obviously changed his mind. It should be noted there are five foreign players in camp (Zajac and Sakaris are from Canada) but teams are allowed only three on their regular-season roster.
“We just got some calls on some guys,” the coach said. “We think they’re good players, and they were willing to come over here and give it a shot. So we just said ‘Hey, why not?’”
“It’s great to have international players, see their style of play,” Simpson said. “It’s tough talking to them, but they’re really great guys.”