CEDAR RAPIDS – He sang, believe it or not.
The bewildered looks on the faces of his players and assistant coaches almost was as priceless as Mark Carlson belting out the chorus to Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" during Cedar Rapids RoughRiders Media Day on Wednesday morning. Almost.
A question was posed to the head coach/general manager about failing to make the United States Hockey League playoffs last season for the first time in 12 years. Super serious in interview settings and jokingly accused of having a standard set of about a half-dozen answers, Carlson spiced things up this time by channeling his inner Bruce Springsteen.
You won't find a bigger fan of The Boss, by the way.
"Don't stop thinking about tomorrow," Carlson sang, to chuckles from those assembled at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. "Don't stop, it'll soon be here."
He kept going.
"It'll be better than before," Carlson sang. "Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone."
"That was the first time I've actually heard him sing," said third-year RoughRiders forward Dylan Gareau. "I've seen him dance before, and he wasn't very good."
The message behind the music was simple. A sixth-place finish in the USHL's Eastern Conference and subpar 25-30-9 record is old news.
This is a new beginning, a new season. Those who look to the past are certain to the miss the future.
The future – the present, actually, in this case - looks pretty good.
"Everyone has grown from last year, we've learned from that experience," Gareau said. "We matured over the summer. Then with the influx of new guys, too, I think the sky is the limit for this team. I think we'll have a great season."
There are 15 returning players on the club, a very high number. Carlson made sure they worked their keisters off over the summer, giving them a strict strength and conditioning program to follow.
The results have been obvious. Players came into preseason camp bigger and stronger.
For instance, second-year forward Andrew Poturalski said he gained 15 pounds of muscle. Players mentioned forward Alec Marsh as another guy noticeably larger.
"We're definitely more physical," said defenseman Scott Moldenhauer. "I see our guys going into the corners for battles and beating our opponents (because) we're bigger and stronger. That's nice to see. It definitely wears on the other team."
"Coming into this season, I think we were pushed 10 times harder," said second-year forward Judd Peterson, a Buffalo Sabres draft pick. "Especially on the conditioning level, the running level, hitting the weights more. I've never been called more by a coach. Coach Carlson was always on you, making sure you were doing the work, which is good. That's what coaches need to do to make sure you're going to have a winning team."
Peterson said it was common to hear from Carlson at least a couple times a week during the summer.
"Always contacting us, asking how things were going," said Moldenhauer. "Making sure you were doing the workouts and testing."
"He was really tough on us, and that's why we've improved so much in the offseason," Peterson said. "It's awesome."
The Riders lost their top two scorers (Gerald Mayhew, David Goodwin) and top-scoring defenseman (Ian Brady) to college hockey, but there appears to depth at forward and defense. Look for guys like Gareau, Peterson, Poturalski, Andrew Oglevie and Jack Rowe to significantly increase their offensive outputs.
Forward Carlos Fornaris and Russian defenseman Ivan Provorov were among the newbies who particularly impressed in the preseason. The regular season begins Friday at Lincoln, with the home opener Saturday night against Sioux Falls.
"Is this a championship caliber club?" Carlson was asked.
"We have a game Friday in Lincoln, I know that," he replied, in more characteristic fashion.
He didn't sing that.