CEDAR RAPIDS - Clark Kuster had a buzzer-beating shot Wednesday night. You see it all the time in basketball, but this is hockey.
"I didn't know if it counted. I had no idea," the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders defenseman said, after his team's 3-1 win over Sioux City at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. "I was asking the guys on the bench if it was a good goal, and they were saying yes. Put it to the net, and good things happen."
Kuster was deep in the opponent's zone in the dying seconds of the first period. The puck came to him as he stood near the corner, a step inside the red goal line.
Sensing there was little to no time, he threw a Hail Mary (referencing yet another sport) that somehow bounced off the shoulder of Sioux City goaltender Collin Olson and into the net as the buzzer sounded. Time of the goal was 19:59, but it was more like 19:59.9.
"We had good energy tonight the whole game," Kuster said. "I think that goal really helped us going into the second. When you get a big goal like that, a surprise shot, it gives you a lot more energy. We went from there."
Andrew Poturalski scored a late second-period goal, and Dylan Steman had an empty netter to cap off a good win for the Riders (16-12-1, 33), who jumped from sixth to fourth place in the USHL's tightly packed Eastern Conference. By the way, time of Steman's goal also was 19:59.
How about that?
"I thought overall it was a pretty good effort for us," Riders Coach Mark Carlson said.
Carlson made a bunch of player moves over the holiday break to get his struggling club going, and it has played better. The RoughRiders have tightened up defensively, not allowed a power-play goal over their last four games and gotten solid goaltending from Danny Tirone.
Making his fourth straight start, Tirone was inches from a shutout. Sioux City's Cedric Lacroix crashed the net and deflected a puck just that far over the goal line with 7:20 left.
"I looked back, and I just saw it a little bit over the goal line," Tirone admitted. "I feel good (lately), but at the same time, the team has been playing incredible in front of me. They make it pretty easy on me. The pucks that are getting through to me are from the outside. They're blocking shots, making me look pretty good right now."
"Like our team, Danny is continuing to improve," Carlson said. "He really works hard. I love his work ethic, I love his character. He wants to get better. He is a lot of things we have been talking to our team about. He wants to improve, he wants to be great, he's a team guy, he competes."
At the very worst, Cedar Rapids played a Sioux City team with a 21-9-1 record dead even, if not slightly outplaying the Musketeers. Turnovers were limited, puck battles won and enough offense created for a second consecutive victory.
Things just might be coming together.
"Defensively, obviously, we're just bearing down a little more," Kuster said. "Our PK has been running 100 percent, and that always helps. Just the 'D' bearing down. We're spending less time in our zone, getting the puck out. That's working for us."
The RoughRiders host Chicago on Friday night and play Saturday night at Omaha.
Here is the official gamesheet: