It has been a very successful season for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. They are the Anderson Cup champions for the third time in club history, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and are looking to capture their first Clark Cup title since 2005. It has been a total team effort to get the RoughRiders to where they stand right now, but one player in particular stands out: second-year goaltender Ben Blacker.
Blacker, an Oakville, Ontario native, was spectacular all season long for the RoughRiders. He posted a 2.24 GAA and a .926 SV% in 50 games this season, both of which were second in the entire league. Blacker says it was a challenge to take on a full-time workload, working the second most minutes in the USHL, but he thinks the key is taking things one day at a time.
“The biggest key is maintaining my body. Making sure that you’re not wearing down too much, making sure you’re looking after your body, making sure you’re in the right state of mind every day, coming to work every day, and making sure you’re doing the right things,” Blacker said. “Just making sure you have the right mindset. Not too high, not too low. You prepare each week for the games coming up and you don’t look too far ahead.”
Some would argue that he has been the MVP of his team, but Blacker doesn’t like to think of it in those terms. He believes it’s been a team effort that has given the RoughRiders the ability to endure the highs and lows this year. Additionally, Blacker believes that any success in Cedar Rapids this season is due entirely to the hard work they’ve put in.
“Our work ethic,” Blacker said. “Making sure we’re coming to the rink every day and making sure we’re coming to work every day, getting better every day, and doing the small things, the small details that will make us better and have success.”
Cedar Rapids RoughRiders head coach Mark Carlson thinks very highly of his veteran goaltender, and says that Blacker is identified as a big key to the RoughRiders success.
“Ben has been very good all year, a very important part of our team,” Carlson said. “A s a staff we are very proud of him. We had different players step up all year and Ben has done that many times.”
Carlson has seen a lot of goaltenders over the course of his USHL coaching career, which has spanned over 1,000 USHL games, including multiple NHL talents. Carlson likes what he’s seen over the course of the season from his goaltender, and believes Blacker has always had his sights set on being the top goaltender on the team.
Blacker played in 36 games last season, his first season in the league, and he posted a solid 2.73 GAA and .913 SV%. He was also named to the 2015 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and USHL All-Rookie Second Team. He has improved greatly on those numbers this year, and thinks part of the reason is being more comfortable in year two in the USHL.
“I see the game a little differently now: reading plays and tracking the puck, those have improved and it’s been a big help for my game,” Blacker said. “You know now what’s coming up for a long road trip and what you need to do, stuff like that. Even playing at home, you know you have to make sure you follow your routine every night and make sure you come ready to play.”
“Ben is a big time competitor which is essential for a goalie,” Carlson said. “He is also quick, athletic and poised.”
Despite all the numbers and accolades, Blacker doesn’t want to be remembered as just a goalie who put up great stats. He says he wants to be remembered for how hard he worked, and how he tried to help his team as much as possible.
“I want to be remembered as a guy who came to work every day,” Blacker said. “Whether it was practice, on the ice, in the community, or during games, I always came ready to play, always put the team first, and do anything that I could to help our team win and be successful.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.