Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cedar Rapids RoughRiders 2008-09 Preview

Coming off a disappointing playoff campaign, the Riders will look to avenge that performance. There had been rumors of Mark Carlson possibly leaving, but those seem to have died down. Cedar Rapids had two very talented goalies last season, but will not return either, putting them in a hole to start.

Key Departures
Doug Jones-Team leader and point getter.
Ian Slater-All around team guy.
Tyler Thompson-Scrappy forward with lots of ability.
Brady Hjelle-One of the premier goalies last season.
Kent Patterson-Top notch goalie.

Goalie (0):

Goalie Evaluation:
Losing Kent Patterson and Brady Hjelle makes things a bit tougher for the Riders next season. They should have Mike Johnson coming in, who is fresh off a Robertson Cup championship run in the NAHL. Johnson spent a couple games with Cedar Rapids previously this season, and performed quite well given the circumstances.

Defense (4):
Doug Leaverton (1989) - Tall and rangy, but didn't play a whole lot.
Chris Wideman (1990) - Responsible in his own zone, didn't seem overly offensive.
Paul Phillips (1991) - Quite young, but should have a larger role next season.
Matt Donovan (1990) - Probably the best all-around defenseman returning.

Defense Evaluation:
There has been speculation that Chris Wideman may jump to Miami of Ohio as soon as next season due to Alec Martinez, a former Rider, going pro. If that's the case, the Riders defense will definitely lack some veteran leadership. Leaverton didn't play a whole lot, but he should have a larger role this season. He's spent time in the NAHL, so he's a juniors veteran. Phillips played in a good chunk of games, but I don't remember much of him, so I don't know if he just didn't play much when he was suited or what. Matt Donovan had an impressive year and should be relied on more this coming season. He should be one of the top defensemen in the league.

Forwards (9):
Vince Mihalek (1990) - A young guy who didn't play much, should get in more games next saeson.
Dean Chelios (1989) - Had more points than Chris.
Ben Lynch (1989) - Had a slow start, but turned it on after Christmas break.
Nick Oddo (1990) - Takes advantage of what is given, 16% of his shots went in.
Zak Stone (1989) - Never saw him play.
Mike Seidel (1988) - One of the top forwards in the league. Not sure why he's not committed yet.
Garrett Vermeersch (1989) - Not too flashy, but was a great team guy.
Kyle Flanagan (1988) - Gritty forward, liked watching him play.
Robin Bergman (1988) - Great player, should be a top player next season when he can have a full year in CR.

Forward Evaluation:
Cedar Rapids returns a bunch of talent up front. Third year guys like Seidel and Bergman will lead the offense, and could very well be some of the best in the league. Guys like Lynch, Stone, Vermeersch, Oddo, and Mihalek should definitely be much better next season now that they have that valuable year of experience under their belt. Chelios had lots of hype associated with the name. Hopefully he can ease some critics next season after getting adjusted to the USHL. Flanagan is the wildcard for me. He spent some time in Canadian juniors prior to the USHL, so he has valuable juniors experience. I'd expect a lot from him next season.

Futures Evaluation:
As previously mentioned, Mike Johnson will be a huge key to Cedar Rapids' success next season. Cedar Rapids would greatly benefit if Johnson can convince his St. Louis teammate, Mike Merrifield, to go to Cedar Rapids as well. Merrifield was one of the best players in the NAHL, and did so as an 18 year old. Mac Bennett on the blue line sounds like a possible gem and is already committed to Michigan. Zach Lehrke, brother of former Indiana forward Tyler, should be a great addition to the Riders and the USHL. There is some big hype around this kid, so I'm excited to see him. Jeff Costello looks like he could be a great find as well. He was successful for his Catholic Memorial HS team.

Overall Evaluation: B

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