The plan was only to be here for a few months.
Riley Weselowski’s best friend and college teammate, Blaine Jarvis, was playing for the Rush during the 2009-10 season. He convinced Weselowski, a defenseman, then in his second pro season, to join the Rush, who were having an impressive second season in the Black Hills.
“I didn’t have any intention of coming here any longer than just finishing out that season,” Weselowski said. “And we obviously won the championship that season. Then I spent the summer here. And I didn’t want to leave after that.”
Weselowski, who grew up in Pilot Mound, Manitoba, a small Canadian town with a population of just over 600, stuck around in part to bask in the glow of the 2010 Ray Miron’s Presidents Cup championship. But also because it was much easier to get access to the ice a pro hockey player needs to train during the summers. Then he just never left.
“It felt a lot like home to me. That small town Manitoba feeling,” Weselowski said. “As much as I loved Rapid City and the hockey element in the winter, the summers here are what it’s all about. Living in South Dakota in the summer is just amazing. To be able to experience South Dakota in the summer and really get to know people, I was fortunate. I just consider myself fortunate.”
It was those people who made Weselowski’s time with the Rush special. The longer he spent in Rapid City, the more they became part of his daily life and his pregame routine. Before home games, Weselowski would walk the concourse, stopping for a hug with one gameday employee or to have his pregame cup of coffee with another. Now the assistant coach of the division rival Kansas City Mavericks, he still feels welcomed by those same faces.
“I’m looking around the rink and I’m seeing a lot of the same faces that were here when I was a kid,” Weselowski said. “I’m getting high fives as I’m coming off the ice. I just consider myself super lucky that I’m able to come back here and still have those relationships with the people that are here.”
It’s understandable that he receives those warm welcomes. Weselowski played 517 games in a Rush jersey, more than anybody in franchise history. His first game for Rapid City came in 2009 and his last was in 2019. His 156 assists with the Rush are the second most in franchise history, and his 195 points put him third on the all-time scoring list.
His number six jersey now hangs in the rafters next to those of two former teammates, forward Scott Wray and goaltender Danny Battochio, who he played with for five and four seasons, respectively.
“I look up to both of those guys for the way they handle things,” Weselowski said. “I played with Scotty for a long time. We developed a really good friendship. Danny is just such a good person. An incredible human being. The way that he played and that he battled throughout the years, it’s special to be up there with him.”
Wray, Rapid City’s all-time leader with 106 goals, and Battochio, the undisputed greatest goaltender in franchise history, were on that 2010 championship team. A team that Weselowski says shares a special bond to this day.
“I played professionally for 13 years, and I don’t think there’s ever been a team where you have that bond with guys that can stand the test of time,” Weselowski said. “You hate to say that you took it for granted but maybe you did a little bit. And you thought that this is just how it’s always gonna be. That it’s always gonna be this close and we’re always gonna be with these same guys and that we’re just gonna win a championship every single year. The longer you go and the further you get away from it, you realize just how hard it is to do.”
Throughout his long career, Weselowski continued to give back to the community. He started running hockey camps in Rapid City and the surrounding area, something he still does to this day. His Black Hills Hockey Academy summer camps visit towns around the state and has spread into Wyoming, Minnesota and Kansas. What began as a single camp with about 20 attendees has grown and introduced countless children to the game he loves.
“That first year, a lot of those kids that you spent a week with, the rest of the season they were hanging over the glass and giving you a high five because you developed that kind of a relationship with them,” Weselowski said. “To be able to see the impact that you can have on some of these kids, they get a lot out of it, but I get a lot out of it as well. It’s just a great neutral relationship.”
Weselowski met his wife, Kelly, in Rapid City. His son, Collin, now hangs around the rink as much as his dad will allow. They were both at his side when number six was unveiled in the rafters of The Monument Ice Arena on Saturday night. The Weselowskis are truly a hockey family, through and through.
Rush fans are obviously grateful to Weselowski. For his years wearing the Rapid City R on his chest. For everything he has done to grow the game in the community. For all his accomplishments on the ice and for any moment he could share off the ice. The ovation he received during this past Saturday’s ceremony made that perfectly clear.
But, to hear him say it, Weselowski owes more to Rapid City and the Rush fans than he ever gave back to them. This place that he never planned to stick around became his home and helped shape his life and career.
“There’s not really a lot of words to describe the gratitude I have for this town and the fans,” Weselowski said. “To be able to lace up your skates, put on that Rush jersey and play in front of the fans here and have that support. And have this electric building that was always just rocking.
“I consider myself fortunate that I was able to play here for as long. And thank you for being behind me and for supporting Rush hockey. I feel very lucky that I was able to be here for as long as I was and that I’m having this honor.”