CEDAR RAPIDS — Had you talked to Gavin Bayreuther about a year and a half ago, he’d have told you he wouldn’t be playing hockey right now. Yet here he is, the USHL’s top-scoring defenseman and a rising star.
“I was almost 90 percent sure I was going to play lacrosse instead,” Bayreuther said after his goal and assist helped the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders to a 5-1 win Friday night over Indiana before 2,156 fans at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. “I didn’t think I could play hockey. I assumed lacrosse would be the way I would go. My dad is a lacrosse coach, so that was the way I was looking.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to what seemed an inevitability. Bayreuther excelled as a senior on the ice last winter at Holderness prep school in New Hampshire, got a Division I offer from St. Lawrence and accepted.
He also ended up on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s final list of 2012 draft-eligible players. No NHL team took him, but the RoughRiders did in this past summer’s USHL Entry Draft.
He’s got four goals and seven assists in eight games, not to mention a very bright future. By the way, his father, John, a prep school head lacrosse coach who at one point was an assistant at the University of Denver, fully supports his decision.
“Really, this was kind of a shock,” Gavin said. “I was blown away. It’s awesome, though.”
Bayreuther, 18, also played soccer in prep school. Hockey always was strictly a winter thing.
So for him to excel at the level he is despite never concentrating on the sport is exciting. That and his skating and play-making ability have drawn comparisons to former RoughRiders defenseman and New York Islanders prospect Matt Donovan.
“The sky’s the limit,” RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson said. “(Kids like Bayreuther) are the thing that excites me the most about scouting. When we see a three-sport athlete like him, we get really excited. I love to see it. I wish there was more of it in the United States of America. Kids should play two or three sports growing up and not specialize until as late as possible.”
Carlson said he sees lacrosse in Bayreuther's hockey game.
"Just the way he moves, the way he looks for things," Carlson said. "The way he processes the game. You'd have to ask him (specifically), but that's what I see."
"In lacrosse, it was always attack. I was a forward, so I couldn't cross the half-way line," Bayreuther said. "But I kind of always have a bad habit (because of lacrosse) in that I keep my stick in the air a lot. Lacrosse and hockey are very different sports, yet very similar. In lacrosse, I'd like to run and then pass it. In hockey, I kind of like to do the same thing."
Cedar Rapids improved to 5-1-2 with a strong overall performance that included giving up just 16 shots on goal. Corey Petrash scored in the first period for the Riders. Bayreuther scored a toe-drag goal in the second, with defenseman Scott Moldenhauer, Jack Rowe and Riley Bourbonnais adding third-period markers.
Chad Catt played one of his better games of the season, losing his shutout late in the third period.
"I thought we had confidence going into the game," Catt said. "We'd beaten this team twice last week. We didn't take them for granted, but we knew we could get the job done if we could perform and do the things Coach puts on the board. Make the basic save, protect your rebounds, protect the puck. I thought it was a good performance overall."
The RoughRiders play Saturday night at Dubuque.