CEDAR RAPIDS — They won a playoff hockey game and picked up a valuable lesson in the meantime. At least their coach hopes so on that latter thing.
“We’ll see if we learn or not,” Mark Carlson said, after the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders beat Team USA, 6-3, in the first game of their opening-round USHL playoff series Monday night at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. “Hopefully, we’re continuing to learn.”
The RoughRiders got a natural hat trick from white-hot Jason Polin, built a 5-0 lead after two periods, then watched the United States National Team Development Program’s U-17 squad rally with three early goals in the third period. Two were on the power play.
You just can’t take penalties in the playoffs, because they have the potential to allow your opponent to build crazy momentum. Team USA is young but skilled and talented.
If the Riders didn’t know it beforehand, they should now.
“You can’t take any team for granted, no matter what your lead is,” Polin said. “They came out harder than us in the third period, and that just shows they’re a great team. You can’t take advantage of them, they’re going to come back. We just need to play all three periods. Go from there.”
Bottom line is this was a win, an important one in a short, best-of-3 series. The teams get back after it Tuesday night at 7:05.
“We realize you’ve got to dig deep,” said RoughRiders captain Liam Walsh. “You can’t let teams back in it like that. Some penalties and things like that. There are a lot of things we can learn for tomorrow.”
Walsh’s empty netter with 33.6 seconds left officially snuffed out Team USA. Max Sasson and Aidan McDonough had power-play goals in the second period for C.R., which went 3-for-3 with the man advantage.
Prior to all that, Polin did Polin things. He took a great cross-ice pass from McDonough and one-timed a shot home to start the scoing at 6:56 of the first, then added another goal just 20 seconds later.
His right-wing rush and top-shelf wrister just 1:42 into the second period made it a hatty. Keep in mind, in the Riders’ final regular-season home game this past Friday night, the Western Michigan commit scored five times, including four times in the third period.
That’s eight goals in his last two games at The Stable. Unreal.
“No, I’ve never seen anything like that,” Walsh said. “He’s definitely got a hot hand right now. But he’ll be the first guy to say it’s all about his teammates.”
Which he did.
“Like I said last week, I could not do it without my teammates,” said Polin, a 30-goal scorer in the regular season. “They set me up. It’s a great feeling, but I’m just doing everything I can to help the team win.”
Blake Pietila, who won 30 games in the regular season, got the victory in net, making 26 stops. Thanks to those four straight RoughRiders penalties in the third period, Team USA won the shots battle, 29-18, including in the third, 14-4.
“We just played our game,” Polin said. “Stuck to our game plan. Got pucks behind them and played our game. Once we got that lead, we kind of sat back a little bit. We learned now that you can’t take one minute off. It’s the playoffs.”
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