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"IF I'M GOING TO PLAY, THIS IS WHERE I WANT TO BE." - AVERY PETERSON, FINALLY BACK HOME IN THE BLACK HILLS

Thursday, April 21st
"IF I'M GOING TO PLAY, THIS IS WHERE I WANT TO BE." - AVERY PETERSON, FINALLY BACK HOME IN THE BLACK HILLS

As the Rush’s return flight from a road trip descended into Rapid City on Monday, April 11, Avery Peterson opened the shade from his seat and gazed out the window. He took in the sights of the city and surrounding area as he finally returned to his chosen hockey home.

“I just truly think the area is so beautiful and so cool,” Peterson said. “Every time I fly in, I’m just looking out the window and enjoying it. You take a deep breath, and it just felt like you were home again.”

Peterson was acquired by the Rush in a three-team trade with the Wichita Thunder and Florida Everblades on March 29, as Rapid City sent winger Jake Wahlin and future considerations to Wichita. The deal was the news that Peterson, who skated for the Rush for the entirety of the 2020-21 season, had been awaiting for months.

He had originally signed with the Atlanta Gladiators for the 2020-21 season, but when the team opted out of the campaign affected by COVID-19, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound forward chose to join the Rush. Peterson found success on the ice in Rapid City, where he played in 71 games, was second on the team and sixth in the league with 27 goals, and third on the team with 50 points. And off the ice, he quickly grew to love everything about the area.

“It starts with the community. It’s a hockey community, which you don’t really get in a lot of minor-league areas,” Peterson said. “It’s a smaller-town feel, and they love the team. You drive around town, and you see Rush stickers on vehicles. People recognize the boys. It’s just a really cool hockey community.

“It’s just a cool place to live. You’re at the rink for a small part of the day, so to find a place that feels like home and has opportunity outside of hockey is really cool.”

Following the 2020-21 season, Peterson’s ECHL rights reverted back to Atlanta, which was once again set to compete for the 2021-22 campaign. Peterson made it known to the Gladiators that his desire was to return to Rapid City and hoped a trade could be worked out with the Rush. Instead, he was dealt to the Florida Everblades before the season began, setting off what has been a somewhat tumultuous year for the 26-year-old.

Peterson attended the AHL Milwaukee Admirals’ training camp and made the team. He appeared in five games for Milwaukee, then went to Europe for a brief stint with the Bietigheim Steelers of the DEL, the top professional league in Germany. After two games for Bietigheim, Peterson returned to Florida and joined the Everblades in January. Throughout the year and amidst his globetrotting, however, Peterson’s eyes were on the Black Hills.

“The team has been doing well all year; I followed them closely all year,” Peterson said. “Nothing [this year] really felt like home. I kind of knew in my heart where I wanted to be.”

“I always knew that his heart was here in Rapid City,” Rush head coach Scott Burt said. “I tried to facilitate something early on when I first got the job and tried to get something worked out throughout the season, but nothing had really panned out. Until it kind of fell into our lap [just before the trade deadline].”

Peterson and Logan Nelson are close friends, having grown up in the same area and played professionally together before. Peterson was a teammate of Gabe Chabot, Stephen Baylis, Adam Carlson, Garrett Klotz and David Tendeck during the 2020-21 season in Rapid City. But outside of those five, the roster had turned over quite a bit under Burt, who’s in his first season as head coach.

Peterson officially joined the Rush on March 29 and met the team in Utah ahead of a three-game series with the Grizzlies. Upon his arrival at the Salt Lake City airport, Peterson was all smiles. No longer was he checking box scores from the other side of the country. Instead, he was suiting up and skating with guys whose names he’d learned from afar.

“It felt like I had been here all year, honestly,” Peterson said. “The guys have been great, and the coaching staff is awesome. Everybody just accepted me and brought me back into the team and culture right away. Following them all year, it was nice to put a face to the name. They’ve been awesome.”

Peterson debuted on March 30 and did so with a bang. He recorded two points, an assist and the eventual game-winning goal in the third period of a 4-3 win over Utah. Peterson meshed in seamlessly with a team that was in the middle of an intense playoff push. The only issue? The Rush were on a two-week road trip, with stops in Utah and Greenville, South Carolina, delaying his return to the place he had fallen in love with in the 2020-21 season.

Peterson and his wife, Fiona, have looked into making Rapid City their year-round home. He is from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and she is a North Dakota native. During the Rush’s road trip, she made the cross-country drive from Florida. And the pair reunited when the team returned home on April 11.

An avid outdoorsman, Peterson was in heaven during the 2020-21 season as he spent his free time fishing, hunting and exploring the Black Hills. He made connections with other fishermen who would frequent the same spots—people who then came to watch him play.

“I definitely put a lot of miles on the truck last year [exploring the hills]. And outside of the hills, you have the prairie, too, where I was out doing sharp-tailed grouse hunting a lot. They’re everywhere,” Peterson said with a laugh. “I like to deer hunt back home, and in Minnesota you’ll sit in a tree all day and maybe see one deer. You go for a drive here, and you see 10,000 all at once.”

His parents made the trek from Minnesota for the set of weekend games on April 15-16, bringing with them his fishing gear. He had fished for his entire life but learned to fly fish, the preferred method of fishermen in the area, during his first season with the Rush. Peterson can make up for lost time during his free time in what will hopefully be a lengthy Rapid City run through the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

“There are a ton of spots [to fish] right in town, and if you go into the hills, the opportunities are endless,” Peterson said. “I had a teammate last year, Joey Sides, show me the ropes [with fly fishing] and I kind of fell in love the rest of the season and fished too much.”

When he finally stepped back on the ice at The Monument on April 13, Peterson felt a wonderful sense of familiarity and comfort.

“It was kind of cool. A lot of people were yelling like ‘welcome back!’ and stuff like that,” Peterson said. “And you don’t get that in a bigger area. [All year] I felt like my boots were in Rapid City. I love it here. If I’m going to play, this is where I want to be.”

Since rejoining the Rush, Peterson has played in nine games and recorded three goals and six assists. Rapid City is set for its first playoff series in seven years as it takes on the Allen Americans in the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

“I think this team is special,” Peterson said. “Everybody is kind of pulling on the same chain here, which is something you don’t see a lot of times at this level. But here, everyone is focused on the same goal, and that’s winning.”

Rapid City has home-ice advantage in the series with Allen, with Games 1 and 2 scheduled for Friday and Saturday night at The Monument Ice Arena. Puck drop for both games is at 7:05 p.m. and tickets are available online, by phone at (605) 716-7825 and in person at the Rush ticket office.

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