CEDAR RAPIDS – On a night in which they could have had plenty of excuses, the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders didn’t need them. Not a one.
No apologies necessary for a 5-0 win Saturday night over the Green Bay Gamblers before 3,441 fans at the Ice Arena. Considering everything, this was arguably the best performance of the season.
Definitely the most gritty.
Chalk it up to the resiliency of youth. It was the third game in four days for Cedar Rapids (23-14-1, 47 points) and it came less than 24 hours after a third-period rally and uplifting victory at Sioux Falls.
A six-hour bus ride home saw the RoughRiders return to town in the wee hours, about 4 a.m. They got a little sleep, did a little game planning, put on sweet-looking black and red camouflage sweaters and socks in honor of Military Appreciation Night and went out and disposed of a team that now trails them by four points in the USHL’s Eastern Conference.
“Takes a lot of mental toughness, a lot of will,” said goaltender Danny Tirone. “When you get tired, you’ve got to push through it.”
A ninth win in 11 games places the Riders solidly in third place in the division. They’re not gaining too much ground on the teams ahead of them, Indiana and Dubuque, who have been equally hot, but both of which lost Saturday night.
But they’re playing good, entertaining and successful hockey. Cedar Rapids is four points behind second-place Dubuque and seven back of first-place Indy.
“It was definitely difficult tonight,” said forward Carlos Fornaris. “But this team is just playing unbelievable right now. Ever since we came back from break. Coach has been instilling in our minds that we always have to have a winning mentality. Put the team goals before your individual goals. We’ve been doing that.”
This game will go down as Tirone’s second shutout of the week and the long-awaited offensive breakout of Fornaris. The diminutive first-year winger played his first 24 USHL games without scoring a goal but game 25 produced two of them.
He capped a three-goal first period for his club with his first, then finished off a beautiful cross-ice pass across the goal mouth from teammate Andrew Gaus late in the second. The Riders’ passing was exquisite on all of their goals, including one each from Mitch Maloney, Alec Marsh and Brennan Sanford.
“Unbelievable. I’m so happy,” Fornaris said. “For awhile there, I didn’t know if I could score a goal. I’m happy to get the first two out of the way.”
Maloney scored for the sixth time in 15 games with the RoughRiders, one-timing a perfect setup by Judd Peterson between the circles for a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. Sanford, who came to Cedar Rapids with Maloney from the lower-level North American Hockey League, scored his third goal on a centering feed from behind the net by Kevin Shand, yet another newcomer.
The makeover of this team over the holiday break by head coach/general manager Mark Carlson has yielded impressive results.
A 1-0 win Wednesday night against Des Moines was the first shutout for the RoughRiders in nearly two years. The next one took three days.
Tirone made 32 saves and was particularly sharp in the third period, when Green Bay outshot Cedar Rapids, 14-4. It appeared as if the schedule finally was catching up to an obviously tired team.
Here is the official gamesheet: