How great was it to finally have Rush hockey back??? Last weekend was exhilarating, and the best part is we just got started. Two games down, 70 to go. Today, I’ll recap the weekend that was, preview the weekend that is to be, and some other observations:
- There is a ton of promise with this Rush team this season, particularly with respect to creating offense from all phases of the ice. Seven goals were scored for the Rush this weekend coming from six different players. Mason Baptista was the only multi-goal scorer of the weekend, and Shawn Boutin was the only defenseman to reach the goal column. Additionally, Cedric Montminy and Avery Peterson capitalized with back-to-back shorthanded goals in a 2:07 span to even the game up midway through Friday’s win. The hard work ethic of the team was in full display on Friday night, outscoring Utah 6-2 in the final 40 minutes after trailing 2-0 at the first intermission.
- Regarding Baptista, his mind for the game is incredible. If you sat me in a rink and told me absolutely nothing about that man, I could still tell he’s a veteran of triple-digit career games simply because of how calculated he is on the ice. His net-front deflection for the first goal of the year and the skilled maneuver for game-tying power play goal on Friday night were simple, intellectual plays that were made because his positioning and awareness were flawless. Be on the lookout for #9 to do some serious damage for the Rush as the season moves forward.
- Despite Saturday’s loss, there were a few bright spots to come out of it. One of the more obvious ones was Jack Suter’s first professional goal, with the first career assists of Jake Wahlin and Griffin Luce. On Suter, his first pro goal is one he’ll remember forever not just because it was his first, but because it was a result of a hard-working play. It wasn’t a snipe, and he didn’t undress the goaltender either. He battled and took a beating for net-front positioning and deflected Luce’s blue line shot to give the Rush a 1-0 lead. Add in even more hard work from Wahlin in the corner and the wall to find Luce, with Luce getting the puck through on a wrist shot and it showcases the potential of this outstanding rookie class the Rush has on the team.
- Another bright spot in the game was the professional debut of Dave Tendeck in between the pipes. The 158th overall draft pick of the Coyotes in 2018, Tendeck showcased great poise in his first professional action, and made some key saves in the second period to keep the game level at 1-1 heading into the third. After all was said and done, he stopped 31 of 34 shots on net in the loss.
- When I look back at opening weekend overall, I’m incredibly proud of how our team, our fans, and our community came together to make the first two games of the season possible. Under normal circumstances, opening weekend is already stressful enough, but add protocols, ensuring fan safety, and being one of the only 13 teams in all of North American professional hockey playing, and it jacks the pressure up quite a bit. We all handled it well, came together as a family, and made it a great success.
- I was so pumped to see “Rapid City Thrillers Night” finally come to fruition. That was a long-time coming for our team. In an ironic sense, Thrillers Night was supposed to be on March 14th, the evening our 2019-20 season was officially cancelled, so it was fitting that we scheduled it for opening weekend and our return to play. From the starting lineups read like in an NBA game, to the jerseys, to Thrilla Gorilla’s attendance, it was a fun night to pay homage to the team that paved the way for professional sports to exist in Rapid City.
- Another special moment for me on Saturday night was our color guard: The Lakota Women Warriors. We as an organization were so honored to host these tremendous women and recognize their heritage and service to our country. Personally, I consider it a major professional honor to have chronicled their story on our website prior to Saturday’s game. I learned so much about their culture and their sacrifice as veterans, and was proud to help them spread their message and goal as a group. If you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, I suggest you do so by finding the story here: “Our Special Guests: The Lakota Women Warriors”.
- This weekend marks the first road trip for the Rush this season, and it pits them against the arch-rival Allen Americans. The Rush are now on their 12th season of competing against Allen, with the rivalry dating back to the 2009-10 CHL season, and subsequently the 2010 CHL Finals. You can always anticipate a tough fight from Steve Martinson and his Americans teams, with the usual suspects like Spencer Asuchak, Matt Register, Dyson Stevenson returning to Allen, and former Colorado Eagle Jesse Mychan coming into the fold after a stint in Europe. It will be a tough test for this young team, no doubt. A variable that makes the start of the weekend interesting is Allen’s home-opener is Friday night. This marks back-to-back seasons in which the Rush open up Allen’s home slate of games. After taking a 2-1 lead early in the 2019-20 season opener, Allen’s Jordan Topping came back with the tying goal with 89 seconds left in regulation, followed by the overtime game-winner to give the Americans a 3-2 overtime win.
- Another variable that adds more of an emotional touch for the home side to the weekend is Saturday night’s finale. For the second time in their history, the Allen Americans will retire a player’s number, and it happens to be goaltender Riley Gill’s #30. Gill was an absolute thorn in the side of the Rush when both teams joined the ECHL in 2014-15. In 17 regular season games against the Rush from 2014-2018, Gill went 12-3-1-0 with a 2.56 GAA, and went a perfect 4-0-0-0 in the teams’ lone head-to-head ECHL playoff showdown, the 2015 Central Division Finals. He holds Allen’s franchise record for most wins, and the ECHL postseason records for games played, wins, and minutes played. He is one of three players and five individuals in ECHL history with three Kelly Cup Championships, which is the second-most championships all-time in league history.
- This weekend’s road trip will be the first time in my now eight seasons with the Rush that I am not accompanying the team on their travels. Because I won’t be at the games in Allen, my streak of in-person attendance will end at 516 consecutive Rush games, having never missed a game or a broadcast despite colds, sore throats, probably the flu a few times, and countless other technical road blocks and ailments that could’ve derailed a night on the air. Although I’m incredibly disappointed by the Board of Governors decision to remove broadcasters from the team’s Authorized Personnel List and restrict them from traveling, I understand that all measures that can be taken to ensure this season is safely seen through need to be taken. For those wondering, I will still call the games, but will do so from a monitor. This was done during the NHL playoffs for broadcasters that were not in the bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto, including Doc Emerick all the way through the Stanley Cup Final. Even though it’s not impossible to do, the challenges of relying on a cameraman to stay on the action and a director to ensure he stays there so I can effectively call the game are daunting, to say the least. Nevertheless, I’m going to do everything I can to ensure the call is as normal as possible for FloSports and all listeners on KKLS.
On the topic of the final point, you can see this happen in person at Buffalo Wild Wings on Friday night for our first watch party of the season, as I will be calling the game live from the restaurant. Puck drop for Friday and Saturday’s road games is slated for 6:05 p.m. MDT. I hope to see you all there Friday night!