CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – If the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders fail to make the United States Hockey League playoffs for the first time since their inaugural 1999-2000 season, they might look back at this stretch as the reason why.
A gigantic seven-game homestand has been a gigantic disappointment thus far, including a 3-0 loss Saturday night to Green Bay before 3,189 fans at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
The RoughRiders (15-19-5, 35 points) are three points back of Youngstown for fourth place and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, with Youngstown having three games in hand. Cedar Rapids is 0-3-1 on this homestand, having to rally late in regulation Friday night to force overtime and a team point in an eventual shootout loss to Des Moines.
"Our focus will never change. Our philosophy," said RoughRiders coach Mark Carlson. "We've got a game next Friday, and we'll focus on that one. We're not going to live in the past. Just focus on the next game and get after it."
The 'Riders could never really get anything going offensively Saturday night. They outshot Green Bay, 24-23, but it seemed most of those shots were from the perimeter against Finnish goalie Richard Ullberg, who notched a shutout in his first USHL game.
Green Bay scored first late in the first period, directly after the 'Riders killed off Justin Wade penalty for charging. Kyle Novak skated through the 'Riders zone and around the net, drawing three defenders, then slipped a pass down the slot to a wide-open Kevin Irwin, who essentially had a slam dunk.
The Gamblers scored on the power play early in the second period for a 2-0 lead. Sheldon Dries shot a puck from a bad angle that somehow found its way past RoughRiders goaltender Chris Birdsall.
"I thought it was a good hockey game," Carlson said. "They found a way to get a couple, we couldn't find a way to bang any in. But I thought it was a well-played game on both sides."
Birdsall, who was solid in the loss, was pulled with a little over a minute left for an extra attacker. Dries eventually picked up a loose puck in the Cedar Rapids zone and fired home an empty netter for the final margin.
The RoughRiders host Chicago and Youngstown next weekend.
"Get more contributions from a few guys," Carlson said. "Have some guys step up and lead. I thought we did a lot of good things over these two games this weekend. We can't overanalyze things and that type of stuff. I thought we played a lot of good hockey this weekend. Sometimes this is just the way it goes."