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Former Jr. Blue embraces agitator role in USHL

e wants to be like Sean Avery. NHL fans know what that means.

You have a difficult time believing it by talking to Ryan McGrath, formerly of the St. Louis Jr. Blues of the North American 3 Hockey League, in a conversational setting. The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders winger is mild-mannered and pleasant, just a good kid.

But when he laces up his skates and the game begins, he turns into, well, a part of the body that is usually described by an expletive. Use your imagination.

“I think it’s just when I hit the ice, there are no friends,” McGrath said. “You’ve got to have grudges against people.”

So the 19-year-old O’Fallon, Mo., resident yaps to opponents. Or chirps, as they say in hockey.

He doesn’t stop. Very little is off limits, but mostly it’s running commentary about a guy’s ability.

“I don’t think it’s anything that’s appropriate for the newspaper,” McGrath said with a smile. “It’s just stuff that gets under people’s skin. Tell them they’re a bad player, stuff like that.”

Keep in mind, this chirping is coming from the littlest guy on the ice in most cases. McGrath checks in at a listed 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds.

That would drive anyone nuts.

“I try to get under the players’ skin. Get them a little mad and get them to take penalties. Get us some power plays,” McGrath said. “I get chirped back a lot. Usually it’s something about how small I am. How I’m not the best player in the league and stuff like that.”

He may not be the best, but McGrath is pretty good. The rookie winger has eight goals and 17 points in 28 games, playing on the top forward line with Jayson Megna and Justin Kovacs.

He has grit and skating speed.

“He fits our style,” said Riders Coach Mark Carlson. “He skates, he moves the puck, he’s got good hockey sense. He really wants to be a player, and that’s so important to us. We want guys that love hockey, and this guy absolutely loves hockey.”

And chirping.

“I think my first year I’ve improved a lot, working with the team and the coaches,” said McGrath, who plans to return to Cedar Rapids next season. “Going into it, I didn’t know what to expect. But I think I’ve adapted pretty well. All I can do is continue to get better.”