HOCKEY SEASON IS BACK RUSH NATION!!! It’s so exciting to know that we are finally here, and my goodness are we ready for it! With that being said, let’s dive into the fallout of last March, the offseason that ensued, and what to look forward to on Friday in the “Black and White Game”:
- The last time the Rapid City Rush played a hockey game was on March 7, 2020. As of publishing this edition of “’Mark’ My Words” today, it’s been 268 days since the team last played. Even further than that, the last practice the Rush had was five days later on March 12th, marking Monday’s start of training camp as the first time the team has been on the ice together in 263 days. Holy cow was this a long-time coming!!!
- I’m going to be completely transparent with all of you: when we suspended the season on March 12th and subsequently cancelled it on March 14th, I was numb. It was by far one of the most emotionally void time periods in my life. The sudden end of something special for our team and our community, the looming unknown of the next few months for ourselves and the rest of the world, and several other factors were beyond paralyzing emotionally for me. If it was this bad for me, imagine how the players felt! They say it takes a village to build one, and thankfully I’m surrounded by a staff that has become a family. We worked tirelessly to lift each other up when we got down about the future, and we came together to make this season happen. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this team and this community. To our staff, our fans, and our partners, thank you for helping make the start of this season possible.
- With the above being said, this season will be vastly different than in years past. Please be patient with us as we continue to accommodate to the “new norm”. This includes media, select aspects of game nights, our community engagement, and more. Hopefully one day we can put all of this behind us and get back to the normal that we’ve all known for so long.
- Just to expand on the above thought, staff and players have a 21-page Covid-19 protocol they must adhere to throughout the season in various capacities. This includes testing, proper hygiene, and reporting symptoms. The amount of work that went into that, especially through the efforts of our medical team and Head Athletic Trainer Cody Lindhorst, are largely underappreciated, if appreciated at all. I said it earlier, it really took a team effort to make all this possible.
- Onto the team! There are so many characteristics that immediately stand out to me about this team, in particular depth, veteran presence, and a polished rookie class. The depth of this team is to be expected to an extent, given how many teams opted out and created an immensely talented pool of free agents. Speaking freely, however, Head Coach Daniel Tetrault and Assistant Coach Jeremy Gates already built a deep team before anyone even thought of opting out for the 2020-21 Season. Specifically, the forward position has a great wealth of talent, bolstered by a returning core with the likes of Peter Quenneville, Tyler Coulter, and Brennan Saulnier, all who combined for 70 goals, 141 points, and 48 power play points last season for the Rush.
- Contributing to depth at the forward are three recently acquired free agents, made so because of voluntary Covid-19 opt-outs. They are Avery Peterson (Atlanta), Alex Rodriguez (Norfolk), and veteran Mason Baptista (Worcester). Peterson and Rodriguez join the Rush after breakout seasons, both scoring 16 goals and 29 points with their respective clubs. Peterson brings a massive frame to the center position, skating at 6’3” and 210-pounds. He won the 2018 NCAA National Championship at Minnesota-Duluth, so he understands what it takes to contribute to winning at a high level. Rodriguez brings speed and a nose for the net, the latter of which is very hard to teach. Since turning pro after the 2018-19 season, he has 21 goals in 69 games, roughly a goal every three games. Baptista rounds out the newcomers and brings over 300 games of professional experience to the center position. He’s played against the Rush countless times as a member of the Quad City Mallards, Wichita Thunder, and Fort Wayne Komets. Like Peterson, Baptista succeeded at the collegiate level, winning a pair of NCAA-III National Championships with St. Norbert University.
- With respect to the veteran presence of the team, this is the first time since the 2018-19 season that the Rush had a veteran classified player (260+ career games). Each team is allowed four veterans, which the Rush maxed out with Garrett Klotz, Mason Baptista, Joey Sides, and Shawn Boutin. Why exactly is this veteran corps so important for this young team? All four players combined entering this season have 1,853 games, 808 points, and 13 playoff appearances culminating with one conference finals appearance and one championship. To put this in perspective, the 16 Rush skaters in the last game of the 2019-20 season COMBINED had 1,429 games, 770 points, 7 playoff runs, and one championship. Keep in mind too, that combined number of professional totals was AFTER last season ended. That’s an additional 12 skaters to count and they still couldn’t come close to the four current veterans!
- The rookie class of this team is probably one of the more polished ones I’ve seen in my previous seven years of Rush hockey. There’s speed, skill, intelligence, and size all combined for this collective group. What’s more impressive to me is all of these rookies are awaiting the chance to make their professional debut. Sounds weird to say, but there are rookies that have come to the Rush in years past (Brennan Saulnier, Tyler Coulter, Tyler Poulsen, just to name a few) that made their debut at the end of a season with the team before coming to the Black Hills as a full-time professional. I can’t recall that ever happening previously since I joined the organization, so it’s a very unique circumstance.
- This Friday’s “Black and White Game” will be a great showcase of hockey for all our fans. Even better, it’s FREE! This is the first competitive action for our players in nearly nine months, and I can promise you it will be high octane. You have to figure, with eight teams voluntarily not playing this year, the amount of jobs on team’s lineups are very slim, and cutthroat to maintain. It these players’ last chances to show they belong in a Rush sweater, so I’m looking forward to a healthy competition come Friday night.
- Because I’m broadcasting the scrimmage on Friday night, here are some fun stats surrounding the “Black and White Game”: “Team Tetrault” is 1-2 in three instances since the game became a Training Camp staple in 2017-18. After falling 7-5 in the first edition, his lone win came in 2018-19 on the strength of a strong shootout round in which five of his shooters capitalized for an 8-6 win. “Team Gates” got its namesake his first win last season after a strong regulation performance, earning a 5-3 victory over “Team Tetrault”. Cedric Montminy will appear in his third “Black and White Game”, which is the most all-time for a Rush player.
Season Ticket Holders can pick up their tickets beginning at 5:00 on Friday night in front of Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Ice Arena. Doors open at 6:00, and the pregame show broadcast begins at 6:35. You can listen to the game in the arena or at home on KKLS “The Cowboy” on 920 AM and 104.7 FM. I can’t wait to see all of you at the arena for some live-action hockey! Let’s get rolling Rush Nation!!!