What a weekend! It was awesome to hear the arena rocking like it did for “Military Appreciation Weekend”! Thanks for coming out to support Rush hockey, and our servicemen and women in the United States Armed Forces. There’s much to discuss regarding the last week, between Brennan Saulnier going to the All-Star Game and putting up the monster weekend he had, Beau McCue’s “baptism by fire”, and the passing of an international icon, among other topics.
- Sunday was one of those days where the world stood still. Anytime someone passes away, regardless of who it is, there’s a noticeable void. Kobe Bryant, one of the best athletes in this lifetime, along with his 13 year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others passed away in a helicopter crash in California. He was 41 years old. I’ll always feel fortunate that I got to watch him play against the Charlotte Bobcats during and after my college years. He transcended sports in every way with his brand, his willingness to help others, his knowledge, and most importantly, his fatherhood. Of the many intelligent and inspirational remarks Kobe made in his life, I found one from an interview he had with ESPN’s Mike Wilbon in 2015. When asked how he wanted to be remembered prior to his retirement, Kobe said “I’ve always said I want to be remembered as a player that didn’t waste a moment…didn’t waste a day”. Those words, now more than ever, have a strong meaning, and in a time where the world mourns, we should remember this and take it to heart. The world lost an iconic athlete, a father, and a person. Rest in peace.
- Last Wednesday, Brennan Saulnier represented the Rush in the 2020 ECHL All-Star Classic, and finished with 2 goals, 2 assists, and 4 points, but no “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” as his teammates jokingly suggested. It was great to see the Rush “R” on the shoulder of his Western Conference All-Star jersey, and his representation of our organization was first class the whole way. The Western Conference All-Stars were edged out in the championship game by the Eastern Conference All-Stars in a narrow 4-3 final.
- Amanda Gunter, Director of Creative and Fulfillment and frequent topic of praise on “‘Mark’ My Words”, designed probably the sharpest specialty jerseys we’ve ever worn in a game, regardless of if it was “Military Appreciation Weekend” or not. I had fans come up to me during the weekend and asked how I could identify our players with these jerseys, because they wore a black jersey with black numbers on the back. I told them two things helped me on the weekend. First, the broadcast numbers on the sleeves where white, so that was a huge help. Second, and most important as I tried to explain, was physical characteristics. Having watched this team all season, you pick up on nuances, whether its how someone skates, left shot vs right shot, if he has hair out of his helmet, how they wear their pads, tall or short…the list goes on. While it got difficult sometimes, relying on those small things helps over time. If you’re an aspiring broadcaster, take this crucial piece of advice to mind.
- Saulnier finished the series last weekend with 4 goals, 2 assists, and 6 points against Wichita, helping the Rush claim 4 of 6 points in the standings. On Saturday, he scored his second hat trick of the season, but in doing so, was on the unfortunate side of history. Saturday’s game was just the third time ever in 12 years of Rush hockey (and 35 hat tricks) that the team has lost a game when a player records a hat trick.
- I CALLED IT! I SO CALLED IT! My bold prediction on New Year’s Eve came true in Friday’s win over the Thunder: Eric Israel scored his first goal as a professional before the end of January. I speak for everyone in the team when I say we couldn’t be happier for Eric. He’s played some outstanding hockey in the last month, and his hockey sense and maturity on the ice have evolved at a rapid pace. He’s just four points behind Myles McGurty for leading scoring defenseman, and I have a feeling he’ll be an integral part to the success of this team for the rest of the season.
- Dogs are the best ever. There is zero argument here. They are, without a doubt, the best most entertaining animal ever. With that being said, on Saturday’s “Military Appreciation Weekend” game against Wichita, we had Staff Sergeant Connor Washburn escort Boriszi, 6-year-old black German Shepherd who is trained in Patrol, Aggression, and Detection out to center ice. Boriszi has been a Military Working Dog for 5 years, and on Saturday night, he was a heckin good boy and dropped the puck before the game. We’ve never had that happen before during a ceremonial puck drop, so that was really special to see.
- As Tyler Parks aptly stated in his website story, “The Anchor” (you should read it if you haven’t, by the way), “The goaltender is…the only position on the ice that can singlehandedly win or lose you a game in an instant”. While that can most certainly be said about Parks and his stellar 36-save effort in Friday’s 4-3 overtime win, it is 100% the truth regarding Sunday’s rubber match win against Wichita with Alex Sakellaropoulos in net. Sakellaropoulos stopped all but two of 40 shots on net over the course of 60 minutes, but, in my opinion, he won the game for the Rush in the second period, denying the Thunder of a tying goal with over a minute and a half of a five-on-three penalty kill. He had one particular stretch in that sequence where he made two point-blank saves and kept the Thunder off the board. If he didn’t make those saves, I don’t believe the Rush would have won the game.
- Travel in minor-professional hockey is hectic, especially when players get called up to higher levels. In some instances, players will get into their destination the morning of a game, maybe a have pregame skate and then play, or at least have some downtime before the game comes around. Beau McCue, the newest Rush player from the SPHL’s Fayetteville Marksmen, did not have that luxury on Sunday. He had an early morning flight from Fayetteville, NC to Charlotte, then from Charlotte to Dallas. He got delayed in Dallas, and showed up to the rink at roughly 2pm, just in time for our 4:05pm start against Wichita. Despite his difficult path to Rapid City, McCue put in a great Rush debut and earned an assist. Good on him to be a professional and ready to work despite the travel adversity.
- It’s another crucial divisional series this weekend against the Idaho Steelheads, a team the Rush haven’t seen since November. The Rush have a 5-0-1-0 record against the Steelheads in the previous six meetings, and are 2-0-1-0 in Boise this season. Dating back to last year, the Rush boast a 6-2-3-1 showing at CenturyLink Arena, which is immensely impressive given how hostile that building is. This is an odd series, given that its only a pair of games, which is outside the norm of a Wednesday/Friday/Saturday series.
- My main expectation of this series is tight hockey. Outside of the very first meeting of the season, each game in this series has been decided by a pair of goals or less. The Steelheads rank third-lowest offensively with 2.67 goals-per-game, only 0.2 ahead of the lowest offense belonging to Norfolk. Defensively, however, Idaho comes in at fourth-best with 2.78 goals-allowed-per-game. Both teams are a combined 28-8-6-4 in one-goal games. To put this in perspective, both teams have played a combined total of 90 games, so the fact that 46 games, just barely over HALF of that total, have been decided by one single goal is remarkable. Because of the low scoring expectation, goaltending will decide this pair of games.
Puck drop for both games this weekend at CenturyLink Arena is slated for 7:10pm. As always, we’re grateful and appreciative that you join the broadcasts on KKLS and ECHL.TV. It’s an important weekend of games, and we’ll need all of you cheering the team on from afar.