Familiar Faces, Bigger Bodies For This Season's RoughRiders
By Jeff Johnson, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, — There’s speed and skill. There’s always speed and skill around here.
But the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders seem to have a couple of other things going for them this season: some veterans and some size.
“We’ve got a way bigger team this year, so that’s good,” said Gerald Mayhew. “That’s unusual for Cedar Rapids.”
Let’s not get completely carried away. It’s not like the roster has a bunch of giants on it, unless you count 6-foot-5 defenseman Blake Butzow.
But there are 10 players who are 6 feet or taller and eight who are 190 pounds or more. Compared to recent seasons, that’s huge — literally.
“I think we’ve got a combination of everything this year: the skill, the speed, the physicality,” said Davey Middleton. “We’re going to combine all those things and hopefully put out a good team this year.”
Coach/General Manager Mark Carlson always puts out a good team. Cedar Rapids has made the United States Hockey League playoffs 12 years in a row under him.
Carlson flirted with the University of Massachusetts in the offseason, interviewing for and being offered its head coaching job, but decided to remain with the Riders. He’s got 12 players with prior USHL experience, so perhaps that’s why he stayed.
“You’ve got to work hard, play with structure and compete,” he said. “You’ve got to be real careful with that. Just because you are a second-year guy, you’re not just going to go out there and impact games. You’ve got to earn it every night. That’s probably the story. Returning players do not automatically translate into wins. Ever.”
The veteran players include Mayhew and Middleton at forward. They combined for 36 goals last season, a team-high 20 from Mayhew.
Riley Bourbonnais and Austin Ortega had 19 and 17, respectively, and also are back. Expect a big jump in production from returnee Andrew Oglievie, the Notre Dame commit who played most of last season as a 16-year-old. He has three goals in as many preseason games.
“I think we’re going to have a really good team,” said forward Landon Smith, another touted returning player. “We’re really skilled defensively and offensively. We’ve got a good pair of goalies. I really think we’re going to be good this year.”
Defense and goaltending would seem to be the biggest question marks at this point, as only third-year player Ian Brady returns (on defense). There are a pair of new goalies in Chris Birdsall and Chad Catt.
Birdsall has a tremendous pedigree, though he’s only 15. He already has committed to powerhouse Boston College, took part in tryouts for the United States National Team Developent Program and was terrific in August representing the U.S. at an international tournament in the Czech Republic.
“We really like both of them,” Carlson said. “They’ve played well. We think (goaltending) is a positive.”
The Riders are 0-4 in the preseason, losing two games each to Dubuque and Waterloo. They have three games this week at the Fall Classic in Sioux City, with the regular season beginning Sept. 29 at Green Bay.
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