CEDAR RAPIDS – Didn’t have T.J. Oshie, didn’t need him.
The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders survived just fine a drama-dripped shootout Saturday night that lasted even longer than the one the United States Olympic hockey team endured earlier in the day in a historic win over Russia.
Freddy Tiffels played the role of hero Oshie, finally ending it in the ninth round for a 5-4 win over Dubuque at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. Tiffels and Dubuque goaltender Kevin Reich are buddies and former teammates from Germany, by the way.
"I think the advantage was on his side," Tiffels said. "I used to practice shootouts against him all the time. So he actually knew the move I was going to make."
Tiffels went forehand and squeezed one under Reich's armpit, just over the goal line to send the 3,861 fans on hand into delirium. Well, except the 100, 200 or so Dubuque fans that made the trip west.
"It's a huge win," Tiffels said. "It was a great team effort. It shows that we can overcome everything, come back from a deficit like that."
Perhaps the most exciting game and best atmosphere of the season saw Cedar Rapids (27-14-2, 56 points) rally twice from two goals down. Dylan McLaughlin, Mark Auk, Clark Kuster and Andrew Poturalski had goals in regulation for the Riders, who have won five in a row and eight of nine.
The only loss was in a shootout. This win moved the RoughRiders ahead of Dubuque by a point for second place in the USHL's Eastern Conference. Dubuque has two games in hand, but still it's quite an accomplishment for a club that sat in sixth a couple of months ago.
To clarify, Olympic rules say one player can continue to take all chances if a shootout extends beyond three rounds. That's why Oshie had four shootout goals in six attempts.
That’s not the case in the USHL. McLaughlin, Charlie Curti and Alec Marsh preceded Tiffels with successful tries for C.R.
"For us to even come back from being down early just shows how our mentality as a team has changed," Poturalski said. "We weren't scared, we just kept going. We've just been trusting in that system, been buying in. We're getting contributions from everyone. Everyone is doing good. We have a common goal, and everyone is working towards it."
Dubuque (26-12-3, 55 points) put the Riders in an early hole with back-to-back goals 27 seconds apart midway through the first period. The Riders got one of those back on the power, catching two Fighting Saints players too deep in their zone, creating a 5-on-2 rush that McLaughlin converted with a one-timer from the faceoff circle.
Dubuque went back ahead by a pair just 1:43 later when Brett Boeing scored on a rebound after a 2-on-1 rush with teammate Gambrell. Riders goaltender Chris Birdsall took the initial Boeing shot high off his chest but couldn’t hold it, the puck rolling away and to Boeing’s stick.
But the tit for tat continued, with Cedar Rapids making it 3-2 on an Auk goal less than two minutes after Boeing scored. Hard work down low from forwards Poturalski and Mitch Maloney created chaos in front, with defenseman Auk pinching in and blasting a shot around and over three prone Fighting Saints defensemen and past Reich.
The RoughRiders made it 3-3 eight minutes into the second period on a goal from Kuster. Make that a beautiful goal from Kuster, who pinched into the slot from his defense spot and took a behind-the-back pass from the corner from Corey Petrash.
His blistering wrister went top-left coner past Reich to tie it headed to the final 20 minutes. Poturalski and McHugh exchanged goals early in the third period.
"We've just got to keep working hard," Birdsall said. "We just need to keep getting better so we can do well in the playoffs."
Cedar Rapids host Muskegon on Friday night, then has a return matchup with the Fighting Saints the following night in Dubuque.
Here is video of the elongated shootout and the official gamesheet: