There was no time for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders to dwell on any disappointment of coming up one point short of second place in the Eastern Conference and the associated first-round bye in the United States Hockey League’s Clark Cup playoffs.
The late-season surge that brought Cedar Rapids into a pack of three teams separated by one point in the race for the last bye in the 12-team playoffs did, after all, accomplish two other important goals for the RoughRiders.
When Cedar Rapids went 19-6-1-0 over the last nine weeks of the season, it earned the first playoff berth in Jason Polin’s three years with the team and also landed home ice for the first round.
“Obviously, you always want to get that first-round bye, but just being back in the playoffs was a great accomplishment for us,” Polin said. “And, one of our goals was to get home ice for playoffs and we did get it in the first round.
“… We stuck to it and finished the season on a great note, so going into the playoffs, we were definitely confident.”
Polin was clearly ready to go. He took full advantage of his first postseason action since reaching the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 16U National Championships title game with Victory Honda in 2016.
The 19-year-old from Holt, Michigan, had a hat trick in his USHL playoff debut, then added two more goals the next night when Cedar Rapids swept USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, 6-3 and 7-2, Monday and Tuesday to advance to the conference semifinals.
Quick postseason starts are nothing new for Polin, who scored goals in each of the first three games at nationals with Victory Honda and wound up tied for fourth at the tournament in points.
Linemate Aidan McDonough set Polin loose early in Monday’s opener.
When he was done scoring five goals in a little more than 26 hours, it was the first goal that Polin said stood out most in his mind.
“Aidan McDonough gave me a perfect pass and I was able to bury it,” said Polin, one of the league’s ten 30-goal scorers during the regular season.
Polin got the 2-on-2 started with a pass coming out of his zone on the power play. McDonough carried the puck up the left side and across the blue line before sending a pass across to Polin.
“I found a way to get by the defender and shot it around the hash marks and it found its way in,” Polin said.
That ended the power play, but not the scoring. McDonough set up Polin again 20 seconds later for a 2-0 lead just 7:16 into the game.
Polin completed the natural hat trick less than two minutes into the second period.
McDonough added a goal of his own to make it 5-0 after two periods on the way to the 6-3 win.
Polin scored both of his goals in Game 2 during the first half of the second period to help build a 5-1 lead. Grant Silianoff also scored twice for the RoughRiders.
The first playoff shot also represents the last run in junior hockey for Polin, who is committed to Western Michigan where he plans to begin his college career in the fall.
“It’s my third year in the league and obviously I want to go out with a bang,” said Polin, who expects his major to be related to business management. “The past couple years we haven’t made the playoffs, and being my third year and my last one, it’s a great feeling being in the playoffs.
“It’s a big push for me and I want to do the best I can, but at the same time, I want this team to succeed as much as possible.”
The first-round win put the RoughRiders in the conference semifinals against the Chicago Steel.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.