"Ammer" is the Hammer for These Cedar Rapids RoughRiders

By Jeff Johnson, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS — The readings on the radar gun seemed a little low at first, so it was decided the guy holding it would move closer than his normal perch behind the glass next to the goal judge's booth.

It's a tad unnerving, to say the least, to sit on the ice directly behind the net and have hockey players blast away at you. Thank goodness for strong nylon and no peculiar ricochets off the end glass.

It did give great perspective on what goaltenders face every game and how fast that puck moves when a guy really gets into a slap shot. Like defenseman Greg Amlong did last Tuesday afternoon, rifling one 94 miles per hour to win this year's version of the Hardest Shot Competition for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.

"Ammer," as he is known, was certainly the hammer.

His blast edged forward Davey Middleton (93) and defenseman Nathan Widman (90) and tied the record Eric Robinson set two years ago, the first year The Gazette and KCRG-TV9 conducted the competition. Truth be told, Amlong was among a group of guys who got second chances, coming back out onto the ice in shorts and T-shirts because their initial shots were taken with the radar gun – provided by Perfect Game USA – behind the glass.

"That's a little bit more than I expected. I was just trying to break 90," said Amlong. "I'll take that."

Amlong – a 20-year-old from St. Louis, who is headed to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell next year - was the odds-on favorite in an informal pre-competition poll. He leads RoughRiders defensemen with nine goals.

Injured players Nick Saracino, Tanner Pond and Thomas Forgione didn't participate, Pond for the second consecutive year. Last year, he was sick.

Kudos to goaltender Jake Hildebrand for giving it a whirl, too, and hitting 80 miles per hour. He must have been a forward or defenseman earlier in his career.

It needs to be pointed out that the slap shot is only part of a player's overall game. There's a lot more than just shooting the heck out of a puck.

But it is cool to watch these guys unload. Some skated into their shots from the the opposite end of the rink to try and generate as much power as they could.

"It's definitely contact with the puck and technique," Amlong said. "Those are the two main things. You want to have good form, and you obviously want to make good contact with the puck."

"Just getting your whole body into it," said Widman. "It's more than just the arms. The power comes from your legs, so you've got to get that torque in there."

You'd think defensemen would have an advantage because most of their shots are slap shots. It's 6-foot-7 Boston Bruins rearguard Zdeno Chara who is the king of slap-shot kings, as he hit 108.8 miles per hour during last weekend's NHL All-Star Game skills competition.

These guys will tell you how insane that really is.

"Unbelievable," Middleton said. "That's an amazing shot. It's something not many people can do."

Amlong said the curve on a stick and flexibility in its shaft also plays a part in how fast a puck can be shot. Sticks used to be wooden but are now made mainly out of fiberglass and carbon fiber.

The typical "twig" for these guys costs between $150 and $175, and the RoughRiders pick up the tab. Amlong said he's broken about 10 so far this season.

Do the math there.

"It adds up," he said, with a smile.
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