CEDAR RAPIDS - This prolonged and unrelenting winter is nothing for a guy who spent time growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, and Winnipeg, Manitoba. Now those are places that get downright miserable.
Between December and February, as an example, the mean temperature in Winnipeg has been minus-two degrees.
"Yeah, but I didn't move south for this," cracked Cedar Rapids RoughRiders CEO Jeff Jauch, whose father, Ray, was a head coach in the Canadian Football League.
At least recent attendance numbers have given Jauch a warm and sunny feeling. The RoughRiders go into their home game Saturday night against Lincoln ranked ninth in the 16-team United States Hockey League, averaging 2,570 fans in 24 home dates.
That's a skosh down from last season's average of 2,663, but the 2013-14 numbers are trending up. The RoughRiders are averaging 3,081 fans over their previous nine games, including a season-high crowd of 3,861 two weeks ago.
RoughRiders head coach/general manager Mark Carlson said the atmosphere for that game, a shootout win over Dubuque, may have been the best he's ever seen at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
"I think it has been a couple of things," Jauch said of the surge. "We struggled in October and November, but things really started turning around toward the end of December. One, group sales have been well. We are getting a lot of support from local businesses. And we try to put on an exciting event. That's what a RoughRiders game is, an event.
"Coach Carlson does such a great job of putting competitive, exciting teams on the ice. They've really been playing terrific hockey lately. I think the group sales and the excitement of watching the team are indicative of the numbers we've been having."
Jauch said he expects a crowd in excess of 3,000 again Saturday. The team's following home game is Wednesday, March 12, against Dubuque, and Jauch said projections are around 2,500.
Cedar Rapids has six remaining home games in the regular season. Sioux Falls leads the USHL in attendance at 4,205 per game, followed by Lincoln at 3,603.
Waterloo, Cedar Rapids and Dubuque rank eighth, ninth and 10th, with averages separated by just 27 fans.
"We've been on a good roll. I'm happy," Jauch said. "People are having fun. That's what I hear.
"Our goal is to be number one in the league. That's what we want to do. I won't rest until we get there."
UNITED STATES HOCKEY LEAGUE ATTENDANCE
1. Sioux Falls (4,205)
2. Lincoln (3,603)
3. Green Bay (3,491)
4. Fargo (3,463)
5. Omaha (3,271)
6. Sioux City (2,825)
7. Tri-City (2,630)
8. Waterloo (2,596)
9. Cedar Rapids (2,570)
10. Dubuque (2,569)
11. Indiana (2,410)
12. Des Moines (2,303)
13. Muskegon (2,057)
14. Chicago (1,317)
15. Youngstown (1,109)
16. Team USA (332)