Happy New Year Rush Nation! I hope you have all enjoyed a happy and healthy start to 2020. Now that everyone is back to work and our holiday vacations have concluded, let’s visit some of my thoughts on last weekend’s series against the Grizzlies, the 2020 Warrior/ECHL All-Star Game roster announcement, a memorable postgame team bonding moment, and the upcoming series against Cincinnati.
- This last weekend’s series against the Grizzlies was exactly as advertised: one heck of a grind. The Grizzlies were the hottest team in the Mountain Division coming into the set of games, having won five in a row, and eight of their last ten. Additionally, they brandished the reigning ECHL Player AND Goalie of the Month in Tim McGauley and Martin Ouellette, respectively. After early adversity in the series, the team shut the door, got some timely goaltending, and took a hard-earned 4 of 6 points on the plane back to Rapid City.
- Regarding goaltending, it was great to see Alex Sakellaropoulos finally get rewarded for his hard work with a W in his statistics. Alex has put together some great performances, but just didn’t have goal support to help push him over the edge. He stopped 42 of 44 shots in regulation plus overtime in Saturday's win against the Grizzlies, and stoned both shooters in the shootout round to help set the table for the rubber match on Sunday that the Rush eventually won.
- Sunday’s win was crucial for a number of reasons, but in particular, the Rush power play got back on the horse with 2 goals in the 5-2 win over Utah. This was a game the man-advantage desperately needed, having not scored a power play goal in six straight, and only once in their previous 49 chances dating back to December 7th. Tyler Coulter came up with two masterful snipes to get the power play back to its scoring ways.
- This is the first season, personally, that I have statistically tracked a player’s point distribution, essentially how many goals/assists/points a player accrues at home vs on the road and in each period of play, the team’s record when a player scores a goal, and first half vs second half splits. Although oddly specific, I feel that these statistical breakdowns can help put things into perspective when analyzing players on the Rush roster. When looking at Tyler Coulter’s point distribution, the second period seems to be his best by leaps and bounds. Of his 15 goals and 27 points, 8 goals and 12 points have come in the middle act of a game. Additionally, the Rush are 8-2-2-0 when he ignites the goal lamp. Fact is, when Tyler does something in a game, there is a gigantic impact.
- Another takeaway from Sunday is Tyler Parks and the terrific bounce back performance he put together in anchoring the series. For a second time this year, Parks stopped 49 of 51 shots in a series-clinching win. Despite only 19 shots on net for his team, he got enough goal support and made some clutch saves to help the Rush earn their 4 points out of 6 up for grabs.
- Following the game on Sunday, the whole team and staff went to a local brewery in West Valley City for dinner. While we were eating, Rush Captain Peter Quenneville asked for the television channel to be changed to the Blackhawks vs Red Wings game, so he could watch his brother John play for Chicago. John had a moment where he carried the puck to the high slot and rifled a shot, unfortunately clanking off of the crossbar. Had the shot been a tenth of an inch lower, it would’ve made for an epic bar-down tally. As John carried the puck around the zone and geared up for the shot, all of Peter’s teammates were “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing”, slowly crescendoing louder, and when the shot caromed off of the bar, the whole place went bananas. Talking with Peter afterwards, he said there had never been a moment like that where his teammates watched his brother with him where everyone nearly lost it cheering him on. He said it was a special and proud moment for him that his teammates were cheering his brother on so hard. John finished the game +1 and Chicago won the game.
- Speaking of Quenneville, Peter deserves a hearty congratulations for his selection to the 2020 Warrior/ECHL All-Star Classic, presented by Toyota. Peter has been one of the most consummate professionals I have ever had the pleasure of working with in my seven years with the team. His methodical and analytical approach to the game of hockey has been a fantastic addition to this locker room. It has been wonderful having Peter on the ice leading the Rush, and in the community as an ambassador for our brand and sport. I wish him the very best as he represents our team on January 22nd. You can catch the game on the NHL Network on television.
- Expanding upon the All-Star Game, the ECHL invited four members of the US Women’s National Hockey Team to partake in the festivities. Dani Cameranesi, Cali Flanagan, and Gigi Marvin, gold medalists from the 2018 Winter Olympics, and three-time World Champion Annie Pankowski, will join the Wichita Thunder, and the Eastern and Western Conference All-Stars in the game and skills competition. I must applaud the ECHL for a fantastic gesture in inviting these world-class athletes! Not only is the league’s main goal development of talent, but its also to grow the game. Including some of the best women in the world to participate is a great way to help grow and diversify this great game we all love. Hats off to the ECHL. Hopefully this is the start of something special, and opens the door to invite members of Team Canada or other countries down the line.
- There is no doubt in my mind that this week’s slate against Cincinnati will be tough. The Cyclones are tied for third overall in the entire ECHL with 48 points in the standings. Two things in particular stand out to me ahead of these three games. First, Cincinnati’s goaltending is near the top in the entire league. Rookie net-minder and recently named Western Conference All-Star Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is stalwart in net, boasting the third-best GAA at 2.08. He and Rush goaltender Tyler Parks are tied for eighth in the league with 11 wins and tied for ninth in the league with a .919 SV%. Luukkonen is tied for second with 3 shutouts, and has been the workhorse for Cincy, playing in just over half of their games this season. Secondly, Cincinnati boasts the second-best defense in the ECHL, allowing only 2.49 goals-against-per-game. Everything starts with goaltending and builds outward, and Cincinnati has worked this to a tee.
- For the first time ever in his career, 2018 ECHL MVP Jesse Schultz will be an opponent of the Rush in Rapid City. I worked with Jesse for my first two years with the Rush, and he was someone that always went out of his way to help me when I needed it for various office obligations, and helped me as I learned every day how to be a professional. On the ice, he was a lethal shooter. When it came to shootouts, you knew EXACTLY what he was going to do every time: high-glove wrister. Good luck stopping it, because it almost rarely failed, that’s how lighting fast his release is. He’s currently the all-time leading scorer in Rush history, earning 275 points in 234 games through the CHL and ECHL eras of Rush hockey. It’ll be nice to catch up and see him play again this week.
Puck drop for all three games this week is slated for 7:05 p.m. MDT at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Ice Arena. It should be a great week of hockey, and I look forward to seeing all of you at the rink!