CEDAR RAPIDS - It's one of hockey's neater tradition for home-team scratches, guys not playing in a particular game, to sit in the stands wearing suit and tie.
Let's just say the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders have had way too many nattily attired spectators lately.
Knock on wood, but the Riders should have a full forward lineup of 12 for their home games Friday night against Green Bay and Saturday night against Tri-City. It'd be the first time since Nov. 15, a stretch of six games short-handed up front.
"Even more importantly is having them for practices. We haven't had that," said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. "It's challenging, but you need to find a way to get it done. There are tons of positives to it, too. Guys get opportunities. So there's really no excuse."
Cedar Rapids (12-6-1, 25 points) lost three times last week, twice to Waterloo, dressing just 11 forwards in two of those games and 10 in one. The RoughRiders scored only three goals.
Those out of the lineup with injury were Alex Funk and Andrew Oglevie. Corey Petrash got sick after a Thanksgiving night loss and missed the next two games.
Captain Dylan Gareau has been in an every other game pattern because of injury. Way too much manpower down and out, especially this early.
"Every now and then, it's nice to have 10 guys and you're out there a lot," said leading scorer Andrew Poturalski. "You can get into the game. But I think over how many ever games it's been, it's been tough on us. That's not an excuse for how we've played. But it will be nice to have everyone back, get a full lineup going and get after it. Everyone will have fresh legs. We're excited."
Especially Gareau, who has been banged up a lot during his three-year USHL career. No more so than this season, as he has been limited to 15 games and recorded just three assists.
"It's really frustrating, but you've got to stay positive about it," he said. "There's no point getting down because that's not going to do any good for yourself or anyone else around you. You just take it day by day, try to improve (your health) every day, and hope it gets better."
Carlson said he won't let his club use injuries as an alibi for not winning and not scoring goals.
"The league gets harder," he said. "It doesn't get easier, it gets harder. You've got to work harder and execute. You've got to do the things necessary as an individual and as a team to score."
Despite the losing skid, the RoughRiders still stand in solid position in a bear of an Eastern Conference of the United States Hockey League. Dubuque and Team USA lead the division with 29 standings points but Cedar Rapids has a game in hand on the Fighting Saints and six in hand on Team USA.