The Rush endured another outstanding road weekend in a very tough place to play against a perennially tough opponent. To come out of the Boise trip with 3 of 4 points is not for the faint of heart. Job well done for everyone all around. Now, it’s onto Wichita, but first, some thoughts on the weekend, the Super Bowl, and the series coming up.
- Have I mentioned how intelligent a defenseman Jalen Smereck is? I’m sure I have. Regardless, Jalen had a moment on the first goal in Friday’s game that serves as a microcosm as to why he’s on an NHL deal. First, Brennan Saulnier kicked the puck up to the point, and Jalen had to move quickly to contain the zone, lest the Rush be offside. Immediately following the containment on the blue line, he looked up, and noticed Tyler Poulsen about a foot from the net on the right post (as he’s looking at the net). Instead of firing the puck on net, he aimed for Poulsen, contacted his stick, and then the puck bounces off of the post, off of Tomas Sholl in net, and in to give the Rush a 1-0 lead. I wasn’t surprised in the slightest, because that whole play showed the hockey intelligence of Jalen Smereck.
- Expanding on the above, Jalen’s ability to contain the puck on the blue line is other-worldly. The puck can be fired over his head, and he’s catching it as if he’s an outfielder at the fence or a wide receiver in the endzone. If the puck is within reach of any of his skates, he’s kicking it in zone or to his stick to make an immediate rocket-fire pass. From there, he either finds an option to finish the play, or finds a way to thread his shot through for a deflection or a rebound. Case and point: he is a remarkable defenseman, and we’re lucky to have him for as long as he has the opportunity to wear a Rapid City Rush uniform. There is a reason he is continuously in Tucson at the AHL, just like he was called up for a third time earlier this week.
- Like I mentioned last week, goaltending was going to be what won or lost each team the series in Boise. Gordon Defiel stood on his head for over 120 minutes, stopping all but FOUR of 82 shots. What struck me as the most clutch about his performance was that 64 of his 78 saves came in the last two periods of the games, plus overtime, showing me that as the game got more intense towards the end, he locked it down and gave this team a chance. Job well done on his part to power through adversity and turn in a solid series of work.
- On Friday, the team had a 2-0 lead over Idaho, but the Steelheads came back with a goal in each of the last two periods of regulation, plus overtime, to take a 3-2 win to start the series. While that point was absolutely crucial for the Rush to gain, I know the other point up for grabs is one that Coach Tetrault wants back. When I talked to him after the game, he said “We didn’t finish in a mature manner.” I have to agree. It is noticeable that the leadership of Captain Peter Quenneville, Assistant Captain Josh Elmes, and Tyler Coulter is missing, on top of the fact that the team is also missing Charles-David Beaudoin, Matteo Gennaro, and Tyler Parks, just to name a few others. Despite missing these players, its up to the current leadership to teach the youth of the locker room how to be a professional and a winner, and even though Friday’s loss was tough, I know that Assistant Captains Cedric Montminy and Dane Birks have been great in that locker room in that regard. It shows, because the team never gave up the lead on Saturday and won by a 2-1 score, staving off a late Steelheads rally.
- Building off of the previous point, it’s impressive how Coach Tetrault has led this team the way he has this season. Despite having new players almost every week, the way he has managed an inconsistent lineup and is still consistently securing wins is a testament to his coaching ability. This speaks to the amount of growth Coach has gone through in the last three years in his position. He’s always been of the mindset that the day you stop learning is the day you go nowhere. Imagine if he was at full strength in his lineup! Coach has 25 wins with 26 games to go this season. To put this in perspective, he had 30 in 72 last year. Good on you Coach!
- When we go on road trips, its natural to find places you like to eat and stick with them as staples for as long as you travel to a destination. In some instances, the more we go to a destination, the more the staff becomes familiar with you and takes an interest in the weekend’s series. For the coaching staff and myself, Goldy’s is our staple for breakfast the minute we get off the bus in Boise, and Moon’s Kitchen Café is the game day lunch/brunch spot. The more we go to the latter, the more familiar Shonna and her staff have become with us. Its always special to create relationships like that, and its to a point now where they can’t wait for us to come back to Boise in two weeks for our last trip out to play the Steelheads.
- The Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night. While my rooting interest was for the Chiefs (my President reads this, you know…), I wouldn’t have been disappointed if the 49ers won, simply for the fact that former South Carolina Gamecock Deebo Samuel was a huge threat for the 49ers leading up to and in the game itself. I’m always proud when we get to the Super Bowl to see what players from my alma mater have made it to that stage. It’s great to know that, even though they’ve had a few rough seasons the last few years, that my school can crank out some serious NFL talent. That being said, a hearty congratulations to the Chiefs! You have immediately made my workplace a very happy location for the rest of the year. And Todd, congratulations to your team, and family and friends you got to cheer with on Sunday!
- This Wichita series is really something else, especially when you look at the last three years of the rivalry. We’ve mentioned on this program before that Coach Tetrault has yet to win in Wichita as the Head Coach of the Rush, going 0-9-1-0 in 10 games. However, in Rapid City, Coach is 9-3-0-0. It’s just one of those anomalies in sports that you can’t really explain. Nonetheless, the Rush come into these final two games of the series against Wichita having won five of the last six games head-to-head this season, particularly on the strength of their power play, which sits at a whopping 26.2% (11/42) through 8 games, including two performances with a trifecta of power play goals. Wichita is also on a skid of their own, having lost 6 of their last 7.
- With the above being stated, the key to the series will be desperation hockey, essentially, “Who wants it more?”. We’ve mentioned the consistent winning that the Rush have enjoyed lately, but you know Wichita will come out guns blazing trying to end their dive in the standings. The Rush could get some pieces back from the AHL, but should that not be the case, the Rush need to play with the mentality that they’re the ones chasing the playoff spot, not that they’re trying to protect it. It will most certainly be a battle of wills in the “Air Capital” on Saturday and Sunday.
- This one is going to be long folks, so bear with me here. I plan on writing something much more poignant and meaningful when the time allows at the end of the year.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the special night that was Saturday, February 1st. For those that didn’t catch it, Saturday against the Steelheads was my 500th game as a professional, all with the Rush organization. I take pride in the fact that I’ve lasted this long, but in particular, there are two things that stand out to me. First, all 500 of my broadcasts have come with this team. I’ve always believed in loyalty to your team, and while I’ve tried to advance my career over the last seven seasons, I stayed here if there wasn’t an opportunity in a higher league. Second, I haven’t missed a single game. There are days where I’ve had a frog in my throat, or days that I felt like I had every ailment under the sun, but I always made sure to show up, put my game face on, and make the best of any situation thrown at me.
I can’t even begin the thank the litany of people that helped make this possible, because the list really is endless. That makes this journey so special. As much as its on me to perform on the air consistently, I can’t do ANY of this without the help of others around me. To my mentor, Jason Shaya of the Charlotte Checkers: I never dreamed it could get this far. Without you, I don’t get introduced to this world and this incredible sense of fulfilment I feel every time I put a headset on. I can’t thank you enough for your guidance, your friendship, and your faith over the near decade we’ve known each other. To Coach Tetrault: you and I have been brothers for the last six seasons. You’ve been my Captain, my broadcast partner, my Assistant Coach, and my Head Coach. You’ve helped teach me how to be a professional and continue to be a shoulder to lean on. To every player that has ever worn a Rush uniform: thank you for your time, your patience, and your willingness to help me. Most importantly, thanks for graciously sharing your insight, your stories, and your talents with me and our fans. To my ownership, first to Scott Mueller: thank you for giving me my chance at a dream seven years ago. Without your chance on me, I’d never be in a position to write this. To Jeff Dickerson, T.J. Puchyr, Joey Dennewitz, and the rest of Spire Sports + Entertainment: thank you for making good on your promise to revitalize this team, and thank you for your continued friendship, leadership and faith in my abilities. To my President, Todd: I’ve had nothing but the utmost respect for you since we met in my rookie season in 2013. I was ecstatic when I learned we’d be working together. Your kindness, your friendship, and your leadership have been greatly appreciated, and I look forward to continuing this for as long as we can. To my Vice Presidents, Val and Jared: you have continuously found ways to push me to be a better teammate, a better broadcaster, and a better person. This season would not be nearly as fun if you weren’t here. To Alex, Amanda, Aaron, Eric, and Kyle: your continued professionalism and willingness to work has made coming to the office fun again. Most importantly, to my mom and dad, my brothers, Patrick and Michael, and to all my friends back home in Charlotte: I can’t stress enough how much I love and miss you. You have made this entire journey worth it, and continue to make it worth it for as long as I am apart of this ride. You are my pillars and my back bone, with whom I couldn’t do any of this without. And to the rest of Rush Nation: from the bottom of my heart, thank you for accepting me as long as you have, and for your loyalty to our team. There have been many ups to celebrate, and many downs to reflect upon and learn from, but your willingness to keep ringing those cowbells in the stands and support our team and our players is relentless. Simply put, THANK YOU. I’ve lived my dream 500 times, and I’m still dreaming. Here’s to the next 500, and many more!
It’s a weird Saturday-Sunday series this weekend in Wichita, with puck drop on Saturday, February 8th, slated for 6:05 p.m. MDT, and Sunday, February 9th, slated for 3:05 p.m. MDT. As always, we’re appreciative that you tune in on KKLS and ECHL.TV. It will be a playoff-feel to this weekends series, and we’ll need all the support we can get from you.