The 14 teams comprising the Midwest High School Hockey League (MHSHL) have completed a quarter stint of the 32-game 2019-20 season as the calendar flips from November to December.
Local Vinton-Shellsburg senior Hayden Rast and junior Brayden Almquist are members of the Cedar Rapids High School RoughRiders varsity squad and freshman Sawyer Rast plays for the JV squad. The boys are gearing up to compete in their next set of home games this coming weekend.
Teams participating in the MHSHL are classified as a Tier II combined teams under guidelines set by USA Hockey, the body governing amateur hockey in the United States. Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri presently lack community-based public high school hockey programs, meaning players from multiple high schools may come together to form combined teams.
In the case of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, boys from 17 greater metro area schools including Benton Community, Vinton-Shellsburg, Alburnett, Cedar Rapids Prairie, and Linn-Mar comprise this season’s 37-player varsity and junior varsity rosters.
The high school varsity RoughRiders are off to a 7-2 start in the team’s first nine games while the JV record is 4-3 with 2 shootout losses.
“There were a number of unknowns coming into this season. We had a significant number of seniors graduate and also lost integral parts of our coaching staff,” said head coach Tony Paoli.
Those challenges were balanced by the addition of Scott Rast and Colton Schultz to the coaching staff and with four former Tier I AAA and Tier III junior-level players joining the varsity squad.
Paoli and staff have aspirations for the season, including winning the regular season MHSHL championship and a repeat appearance and win at the state championship. Paoli believes all is attainable if the team stays focused on their objectives and work hard each practice and game.
“This is a talented group of players who are still finding their way together,” Paoli said. “Each day, we see improvement on the ice. Once they hit their stride, our team will be a difficult one to play against.”
The RoughRiders have already faced off against some of the more competitive teams in the league, including Sioux City, Waterloo, and Quad City. The team split a pair of games against Sioux City in their opening weekend and have won two games against Quad City, on the road and at home in the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena adjacent to Veterans Memorial Stadium. A game against Waterloo on the road had the team coming up short, narrowly losing in the last minutes of the third period, 5-4.
Assistant captain Holden Sevening, a student at Alburnett High, shared his insight into what’s required for the team to see success.
“The most important thing for us is consistency,” Sevening said. “When we play at our top level, we’re pretty tough to beat. We’ve had difficulties playing at that level for all three periods during some games. If we can master consistency, the remainder of the season looks bright.”
Players commonly begin learning the sport at a youth hockey level. In our proximity, there are youth hockey programs in Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque, Quad City, and Iowa City.
“After a runner-up placement in the state championship post season last year, this is our opportunity for redemption,” said assistant captain Cameron Walker. “It means a lot to have players back from their AAA teams and it’s very fun to get to play again with the same guys you played with as a Squirt (9-10 years of age).”
After a two-week break in the game schedule, the team will start the second quarter of the season on home ice with games against the Des Moines Oak Leafs on Friday, December 6 at 6 p.m. for JV and 8 p.m. for varsity. On Saturday, Dec. 7, they face off against the Waterloo Warriors at 10 a.m. for JV and noon for varsity. RoughRiders fans and students enjoy free admittance. Opposing team fans pay a $5 entrance fee, while seniors pay $2.
In the spirit of the giving season, the RoughRiders ask game spectators drop off donations of personal care (toilet paper, body lotion, diapers, wipes, toothbrushes/paste) and cleaning items at the ticket table to benefit Waypoint Services. All donations will stay in the local area and will benefit adults and children experiencing domestic abuse or homelessness.
Find out more about the high school RoughRiders on their website, Facebook page (CRHSRoughRiders), or Instagram (@cr_hs_roughriders).