Riders Take Over First Place
By Jeff Johnson, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders are looking down at the rest of the United States Hockey League.
A three-goal rally in the second period and the record-breaking heroics of goaltender Brady Hjelle lifted the Riders past the Green Bay Gamblers, 4-2, last night before a sold-out house of 3,681 at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
The win was the red-hot Riders' 12th in 13 games and moved them past Green Bay by a point (81-80) into first place overall and in the USHL's Eastern Conference with two weeks left in the regular season. The Gamblers had as much as an 11-point lead on Cedar Rapids this month.
Cedar Rapids has a big hammer now, considering it has six regular-season games remaining to Green Bay's four. The teams play one more time, in Wisconsin.
"We don't pay attention to a lot of that stuff," Riders Coach Mark Carlson said. "Just keep pecking away game after game."
Hjelle made 41 stops to win his remarkable 37th game, a USHL season record. Jeff Lerg of Omaha had the record of 36 in the 2004-05 season.
There is a serious case to be made for Hjelle's being the USHL's Most Valuable Player. He is among the leaders in every goaltending category and has all but one of his team's victories this season.
The Minnesota-Duluth transfer, who saw his old school qualify Saturday for the NCAA's Frozen Four, gutted out a 2-1 shootout victory at Des Moines early last week despite having a bad case of the stomach flu. That's how important and good he has been for his team.
"I had absolutely no idea about (the record)," he said. "Nice."
"Obviously he's been real good for us," Carlson said. "But I think he'll reflect on that up in (hometown) International Falls (Minn.) in June and July. I'm sure he's proud, and we're proud of him for it. But I don't think that's what he's after."
This game turned completely in a matter of 16 seconds in the second period.
That's how long it took the Riders to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. Sam Warning snapped a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle past Green Bay goaltender Ryan McKay at the 7:02 mark, then Cason Hohmann hopped on a loose puck at the side of the cage McKay thought he had corralled after making a stop on a point shot from defenseman Tommy Fallen.
That got The Stable rocking as loud as it has all season.
"I just thought we executed the game plan a little better there," Carlson said. "We didn't really follow the plan there in the first. The second and third we did a better job."
Things got expectedly physical after that, with 10 guys in the penalty box at one point, five from each team. Ryan McGrath gave Cedar Rapids a huge two-goal edge late in the period by skating in front and taking a nifty feed from Gage Hough, waiting out McKay, who went down, and slipping a backhander past him.
Green Bay (38-14-4, 80 points) had the better first period, taking a 2-1 lead after defenseman Josiah Didier got the game's first goal for Cedar Rapids 5:46 in. The Gamblers peppered Hjelle with 15 shots on goal.