CEDAR RAPIDS – Thank you, Youngstown.
Has anyone ever uttered those words? The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders did Friday night.
At least their fans did. Their coach was his usual nonplussed self when asked what it meant to officially know his hockey club has clinched second place in the division and home-ice advantage in the first round of the United States Hockey League playoffs.
“You want to finish as high as you can as a competitor. It's nice for the fans,” he said, after a 5-1 loss to Waterloo before a crowd of 4,009 in the regular-season finale at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. “But we’ll play anywhere. We’ll play here, we’ll play on Mars, in the parking lot at NewBo. We’ll play wherever.”
Cedar Rapids hosts Dubuque in Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-five Eastern Conference semifinals next Friday and Saturday (April 11 and 12). That was assured after the Fighting Saints lost to the aforementioned Youngstown Phantoms.
Game 3 is April 18 at Dubuque, an if-needed Game 4 April 19 at Dubuque and a deciding Game 5 back in Cedar Rapids April 21.
“Not really,” said the RoughRiders’ Dylan Steman, when asked if he had a reaction on his team wrapping the second seed in the division. “Guess it feels good. Obviously, we wanted to win but weren’t overthinking it or anything. You just want to win every game and get better every day at this point. We’ve been trying to get better all season, so just keep with that strategy.”
“It’s good to know we worked hard all year, got the two spot, and we have home ice,” said Riders forward Andrew Poturalski, who started the scoring late in the first period with his 26th goal of the season. “Obviously, we’ve got great fans, and we love playing in front of them. So I think we’re excited to get home ice.”
The Riders (35-21-3) allowed a pair of power-play goals in the second period, then saw their opponent put the game away with a three-goal third. Waterloo (43-11-5) clinched a share of the Anderson Cup (most standings points) and can win it outright with a win or overtime/shootout loss Saturday night at home against Cedar Rapids.
“I thought we did a lot of things well tonight,” Carlson said. “We took too many penalties, didn’t take care of the puck a few times. They did a better job on their power play than we did tonight, and that was the difference.”
The RoughRiders were 0 for 7 with the man advantage, including coming up empty on a short 5-on-3 midway through the second period. Waterloo outshot them in the game by a 33-16 margin.
Danny Tirone suffered the loss in net. Poturalski has 99 career USHL points and the highest season goal total for a RoughRiders player since Jayson Megna scored 30 in 2010-11.
Megna plays for the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.
“We shore up the mistakes we made tonight, and I think we’ll be fine,” said Steman. "You want to get on a roll heading into the playoffs, so we won't lack for motivation tomorrow night."
Here is the official gamesheet: