Our second-busiest week of the season is done (the busiest comes in March), and the Rush are now enjoying a hard-earned All-Star Break. While the players rest up and get ready for the remaining 31 games of the season, lets visit some thoughts I have on the trip that was, another All-Star nomination well-deserved, an odd trend in the NHL, and a look ahead to the series against the Thunder.
- If you told any coach in professional hockey that in a four game/five night/three city stretch that he’d come out with 4 points or more, he’d ask “Where do I sign?”. The fact that the Rush came out of this trip through all the travel, the mid-night drives to cities, and shorthanded with 4 points against tough competition is a testament to the heart of this team. This stretch, although crazy given the amount of hockey in such a short amount of time, couldn’t have come at a better time as the team goes on its All-Star Break.
- Tanner Karty earned five points in the last three games for the Rush, to the tune of 2 goals and 3 assists. Given how hard Tanner works night in and night out, these points are long overdue. Nonetheless, it’s great seeing him finally get rewarded for the dedication he puts into this team. What makes Tanner such a special player and leader is that, no matter who he plays with on a line, who he plays against, or where he’s playing, he always plays the EXACT SAME WAY. He doesn’t try to be something he isn’t. As Coach Gates would say, “Tanner just loves hockey”.
- One of my favorite interviews in the last two years of Rush hockey is Rush Swingman Chris Leibinger. On Sunday afternoon in the finale against Cincinnati, we got to revisit and discuss numerous topics heading into the game. Chris has to be one of the most intelligent players, both on the ice and in life in general, that I have ever had the pleasure of speaking to. His ability to articulate the finer points of the game to fans, and myself, is a magnificent skill that I don’t think he gets enough credit for. It has been awesome to get to know him as a person and player since he joined the organization in 2018, and I look forward to many more interactions and conversations for as long as he’s with our team.
- It was announced yesterday that the 2020 Warrior/ECHL All-Star Classic presented by Toyota will have a different representative for the Rapid City Rush. With Rush Captain Peter Quenneville still in the AHL with Rockford, Brennan Saulnier was selected to play in his stead on Wednesday night in Wichita with the Western Conference All-Stars. Brennan has played a consistent brand of tough, fast, and skilled hockey, and is duly rewarded for his development and progression throughout the season with this nomination. We couldn’t be more proud of you, Brennan.
- I happened to be in the room with Coach Tetrault when he told Brennan that he was going to the All-Star Game on Wednesday. After Coach shook his hand and told him he was playing, the look of sheer shock, exhilaration, and gratitude in his face was a special sight to see. After the news was shared with the locker room, Brennan’s teammates not only showered him with congratulatory celebration, but they also tried suggesting things he should do in the All-Star Game. One of his teammates suggested he should try and get a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick”, which means he scores, records an assist, and gets in a fight. The suggestion came to raucous laughter. Barring a John Scott vs Patrick Kane moment like at the NHL All-Star Game in 2016, I don’t think that will happen. That just adds more intrigue for all of us to watch and see on Wednesday night on the NHL Network. If he does, that could be one of the more hilarious moments at the ECHL’s midseason showcase in recent memory. After all, it is all about the fun, right?
- There is an alarming trend in the NHL that has seen Head Coaches getting fired left and right. As of the writing of this piece, there have been SEVEN coaches either fired or forced out of their positions in this season alone, and we just got to the All-Star Break! Now granted, most have been for performance, or lack thereof. Two in particular have been for off-ice reasons, such as Jim Montgomery in Dallas, who has since sought help, and Bill Peters, who was accused of racism and abuse of players. Gerard Gallant, who led the Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their 2018 inaugural season was the most recent firing, which is crazy because the Knights are currently in a four-way tie for second in the Pacific Division. This recent trend reinforces that the character of a coach is immensely important, not just wins and losses. It’s tough to find the balance of winning success on the ice and strong character away from it. With this in mind, it reinforces how lucky we are to have Coach Tetrault and Coach Gates behind the bench. They’re making it happen on the ice and in the community.
- On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC Championship Game by a 35-24 score over the Cinderella story Tennessee Titans. While we couldn’t watch the game, due to the Rush playing the Cyclones, we were thinking about our President, die-hard Chiefs fans and Kansas City’s own Todd Mackin, and how much of a roaring celebration he was having after the game clock struck zero in Arrowhead Stadium. This is the first time the Chiefs are in the Super Bowl in 50 years. I can only imagine how crazy the Super Bowl party at Mackin Manor is going to be!
- From here on out in the season, the march to the playoffs intensifies. I say that for two reasons: first, we’re working our way into the final half of the season, and second, every game from here on out is against a Mountain Division rival, meaning each game is a four-point swing. Rush Nation, you say you’ve wanted a winner, and you say you’ve wanted exciting hockey. Well, you have both. Come on out to the rink and share this incredible experience of what is going to be a fascinating rush to the playoffs!
- This series against the Wichita Thunder perpetuates the above sentiment, with a 4-point swing for three consecutive nights. Wichita will be coming off of playing in the All-Star Classic on Wednesday, then immediately driving to Rapid City. The Thunder are a desperate team, sitting just four points behind the Rush for the final playoff spot entering the weekend series. The benefit for the Rush is they’ve played less games than Wichita, and three games in hand, meaning six points remain up for grabs later in the year.
- This weekend is our annual “Military Appreciation Weekend”, where we salute the United States Military, both past and present, and wholeheartedly thank them for their service and sacrifice for our country. Every year when this weekend rolls around, I think of my military family: my uncle and aunt Tom and Linda Lynch, who also happen to be my God Parents, and my grandfather, Dr. William Lynch, all three of which served in the US Army. In particular, my grandfather comes to mind this year because of my European vacation from this last summer. Dr. Lynch was a Major in the 142nd AAA Gun Battalion serving in Europe, specifically in the second wave in Omaha Beach, and throughout France and Belgium. He wrote a story on a trip to Lisieux, in which his service and his faith intertwined. He took a trip to Lisieux, France, to see the basilica for St. Therese of the Little Flower, to whom he had a devotion. This summer, I got to trace his footsteps and see Omaha Beach, and St. Therese’s Basilica with my own eyes. I got to sit in the same church and chapel that he had a mass said in 75 years after he did. He passed away before I was born, so I never got to meet him in person, but in that one instance I felt as if he was right next to me. It was one of the more powerful moments of my life. I think of his faith and service to our country, and will be thinking of him and the rest of my family throughout the weekend.
It will be a great weekend of hockey, and our tribute to our servicemen and women will be quite the spectacle. I look forward to seeing all of you come to salute our troops and cheer our team on in a tough divisional series!