Where We Left Off: Duck Hunt – Mikhail Stefanovich led the way with a second hat-trick in as many games as the Rapid City Rush defeated the Quad City Mallards by a 5-2 score on Friday night. The matchup was the first of the season between the two rivals, and the first matchup since Game 7 of last year’s opening round of the ECHL’s Kelly Cup Playoffs. Both teams edited the scoreboard in the period, but none of the two goals scored were done in five-on-five hockey. With seven second remaining in a five-on-three power play, the Mallards drew first blood as Matt Carey sent a one-timer by Rush net-minder Danny Battochio which afforded theMallards a 1-0 lead 7:49 into the first (Guillaume Gelinas and Vladimir Nikiforov received the assists). In the waning moments of the frame, the Rush tied it thanks to work down-low in the offensive zone by one of their hottest scorers. In the midst of four-on-four hockey, Mikhail Stefanovich forced a turnover and danced in the low slot, patiently waiting to strike. He found his moment and the five-hole of Mallards goaltender Brody Hoffman and evened the score at 1-1 with 2:28 remaining in the first (the goal was unassisted). Mikhail Stefanovich picked up from where he left off at the start of the second, giving the Rush their first lead of the game at 2-1 as he beat Hoffman for a second time in the game just 65 seconds into the frame (Brett Kostolansky and Taylor Doherty recorded the assists). Quad City fired back later in the frame, equalizing things while killing a Rush power play. Shorthanded, Mike Monfredo skied the puck to Sam Warning, who finished his shorthanded breakaway and beat Battochio up high to tie the game at 2-2 (Monfredo got the lone assist) with 10:37 left in the frame. That was as close as the Mallards would keep it as the Rush pulled away with another tally from Stefanovich. The Minsk, Belarus native finished his third hat-trick of the season, and second in as many games, as he buried cross-ice pass from Daniel Barczuk that zipped by Hoffman to give the Rush a 3-2 lead with 2:06 left in the middle act (Barczuk and Brian O’Rourke recorded the assists). James Melindy, celebrating his 22nd birthday, ignited the goal lamp to separate the Rush further from the Mallards, finishing a coast-to-coast run to double the Rush lead to 4-2 with just 5:21 gone by in the final period (the goal was unassisted). Spencer Pommells rounded out the scoring entries with his seventh goal of the season, firing the puck into an empty Mallards net with 1.2 seconds left to bring the game to its concluding score of 5-2 (Kale Kerbashian garnered the lone assist).
Are You Kidding Me?? – That was the phrase uttered by Rush Radio Analyst Daniel Tetrault as he watched Mikhail Stefanovich trigger his third shower of hats this season. Stefanovich ripped off another hat-trick on Friday against the Mallards, making some significant history in the Rush record books. For starters, he becomes the first player in Rush history to net 3 hat-tricks in a season, and ties the franchise record for most hat-tricks by a single player with 3 (Jesse Schultz, the team’s all-time leading scorer, originally set the mark). Secondly, he becomes the first player in Rush history to record hat-tricks in back-to-back games and the 10th in ECHL history to accomplish the feat, and has scored all three of his hat-tricks in 9 games over the span of 21 days. Most importantly, should Stefanovich earn another trifecta tonight, he would become the 5th player in ECHL history to “three-peat” hat-trick performances in consecutive games (the original mark was set by Brian Martin of the Hampton Roads Admirals in 1989).
You Guys Again? – Not only do the Rush rematch the Mallards 24 hours removed from their last showdown, but tonight is also the third straight year, and fourth out of eight the Rush have been in operation, that the Rush and Mallards will go head-to-head in the Rush’s annual Teddy Bear Toss game. The lucky gentleman on the Rush roster that scores the team’s first goal of the contest will prompt a shower of teddy bears from the Rush faithful in attendance, with all bears going to Youth and Family Services in the Rapid City area. All-time, the Rush are 4-1-2 in the Teddy Bear Toss, and only once in the last 7 games has a defenseman scored the big goal (Gio Flamminio vs Quad City five years ago).
Youth Movement – In addition to the high-octane scoring provided by Stefanovich and company, the Rush are also enjoying an added offensive boost from the rookies of the club. Of the 62 goals scored by the Rush this season through 21 games, 25.8% of them have come from rookies on the roster. Spencer Pommells holds the torch among his rookie companions with 7 to his name (also good enough for second on the entire roster behind Stefanovich), while Destry Straight isn’t too far behind himself with 4.
CRUNCHING NUMBERS: vs the Mallards – With one last matchup remaining between both of these foes, let’s recap some numbers from the previous matchup that has help set the table for tonight’s series finale:
- 12 – the number of combined penalties between both clubs last night. EVERYTHING was being called and it resulted in multiple man-advantages (most of which were partial-not a full 2 minute opportunity), and multiple bouts of four-on-four hockey. The Mallards garnered the only power play goal of the contest with Matt Carey scoring on a five-on-three advanatage in the first period.
- 6 – the number of consecutive periods in which the Rush have recorded a goal. The offense is on fire at the current moment, with the Rush railing off 12 goals in the last two games, scoring in each period in the process. On the flip side, the Rush have only allowed 4 goals in that same span.