Friday Night Ice

Junior Hockey In Cedar Rapids Is Woven Into The Fabric Of Small Town Life

The history of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders franchise comes to life every Friday and Saturday night at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, better known in these parts as The Stable, located in the heart of what has affectionately become known as Ridertown, USA.

The community loves the RoughRiders, who have averaged nearly 2,800 fans per game over the past five seasons. Game night brings a buzz that also goes beyond hockey and features fun off-ice entertainment and a big-league feel.

Fans traverse a concourse lined with photos of alumni while wearing a variety of green, black and white jersey styles the team has fashioned since its inception in 1999.

And many of those not dressed in Riderwear proudly display the NHL colors of such players as Justin Abdelkader, Alec Martinez, Alex Stalock, Tommy Wingels and Jayson Megna, who all called Cedar Rapids home before moving on to NCAA Div. I programs and the professional ranks.

Cedar Rapids fans actually root for two teams—the current group of RoughRiders and the hundreds of former players who parlayed their time in Eastern Iowa into greater opportunities in the game.

The bumper stickers and billboards throughout the city show just how much the RoughRiders have woven their way into the fabric of a community without an extensive hockey history beyond the 21st century.
To the fans, the RoughRiders are more than just a hockey team. They are a vital part of the community.

Friday night hockey games at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena are an event as everyone gets in on the fun and excitement.Friday night hockey games at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena are an event as everyone gets in on the fun and excitement.

Boys To Men

Mark Carlson oversees so much more than just the development of young hockey players as the head coach and general manager of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. He only considers his job complete if those same players continue to develop into quality human beings during their time in the United States Hockey League.

Over the course of the season, Carlson might only see his players, who range in age from 16 to 20, for a few hours per day.

So, in addition to developing their skills on the ice, the RoughRiders place their players in welcoming billet homes and keep them busy with a variety of off-ice programs, including high school, community college, part-time jobs or community outreach programs depending on their age and academic pursuits.

“We want them to improve as people and aid the job their parents have been doing for 15, 16, 17 years,” said Carlson, the only head coach the RoughRiders have known since entering the USHL in 1999.

“For us, as coaches in the USHL, the best compliment we can get is when parents tell us their boy grew up and developed into a young man while they were here with us. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.”

Right At Home

Callahan Burke, Matt Filipe and Sam Sternschein all grew up on the East Coast. But they fit right in with the Doug and Janelle Banowetz family in Cedar Rapids.

“Moving away from home can be tough, especially if it’s your first time, but they do a great job of making us feel at home,” said Filipe, who hails from Lynnfield, Mass.

“They encourage us to bring som

e of our own ways from back home and get us involved in decisions, like what we’ll eat for dinner. They understand that it can be tough to be away from home.”

While the players learn a level of independence, they still must follow the rules of the house. That includes the chores that few teenagers enjoy.

“A big part of playing in this league is living away from home,” Sternschein said. “So, it helps a lot to be treated like their own son while you’re here.

Books And Pucks

The RoughRiders’ roster includes seven students enrolled at Washington High School. The players attend school in the morning and practice in the afternoon. Like other  USHL teams, the RoughRiders employ academic advisors to keep players on top of their studies.

“Our schedule can be pretty tough, especially when you have to miss school because of road trips, but it teaches you responsibility,” forward Hugh McGing said. “You have to communicate with your teachers more often and work with them. It’s nice to know, too, that the support is there to keep you on task.”

Callahan Burke, who will be heading off to Notre Dame next season, has been taking classes at Kirkwood Community College this season.

“It’s only a couple of classes a semester, so it’s not too tough, but it keeps me in the mode of going to school while I’m playing hockey,” Burke said.

“The nice thing is, everyone on the team knows the importance of keeping up with your schoolwork. That support makes it a lot easier to stay on top of things.”

Like other USHL teams, the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders pride themselves on their community involvement. In return, the community supports players like Ben Blacker (33).Like other USHL teams, the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders pride themselves on their community involvement. In return, the community supports players like Ben Blacker (33).

Elementary Work

Ross Colton, the team’s leading scorer, is one of many players who take part in the RoughRiders’ outreach program, which includes reading to elementary school children and serving as a positive role model.

“I think I get just as much out of it as the kids do,” Colton said. “It’s kind of cool to see the looks on their faces, knowing that they might not have the same opportunities we have.

“Some guys might feel a little awkward or might not like public speaking that much. But, seeing the kids and how they respond to you makes it a lot easier.”

Working Responsibility

Mitch Reinke spends his Tuesday and Thursday mornings working a part-time job at Batteries Included in Cedar Rapids. His responsibilities include deliveries, office work and sweeping floors.

“It’s kind of nice to get away from hockey a little bit and be a regular kid for a while,” Reinke said.

“It’s not real tough work, but it teaches you responsibility. It’s another example of the team helping you prepare for life outside of hockey.”

Jim Leitner is the sports editor of the Dubuque (Iowa) Telegraph Herald.




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