Alex Aleardi has been a bit of a nomad during his hockey career. Over 10 professional seasons, he has played in 462 games. They have taken place in six leagues, four countries and 11 cities. And he hopes that Rapid City is his final stop.
Aleardi was acquired by the Rush in a trade from the Allen Americans over the summer, shortly after Allen had acquired him from the Florida Everblades. He was part of the Everblades team that won the 2022 Kelly Cup, chipping in with 31 goals and 28 assists during the regular season plus eight goals and four assists in the postseason run.
Earlier in that season, he was a teammate of Avery Peterson, who enjoyed two separate stints in Rapid City with the Rush. It was Peterson who told Aleardi how excited he should be to be heading to the Black Hills.
“I played with [Peterson] last year, and he said, ‘You’ve got to trust me on this one. Rapid City’s a good spot. They give you top-notch everything. They take care of you, not so much like a hockey organization but as a family would,’” Aleardi said.
With that endorsement in mind, Aleardi and his wife, Melissa, arrived in Rapid City excited to see what the area had to offer. He had never been to Rapid City. He had never even played a game against a Mountain Division opponent. But Peterson’s words proved prophetic for the Aleardis. They got settled, explored the area and agreed that they should look to put down roots and make Rapid City their new home.
“I’m at that age. I’m 30. Knock on wood, I hope I can play until I’m 35, 36,” Aleardi said. “We’ve started looking [for a house]. We’ll probably hold off until after Christmas, but that’s the plan at the end of the day.”
For Aleardi, the coach was a major part of the certainty that he wants to be with the Rush for the foreseeable future. He had heard only good things about Scott Burt before the trade. Since Aleardi plans on transitioning to coaching himself, he has been a constant presence in Burt’s office, soaking up as much hockey knowledge as he possibly can.
“I’m on that other nine and I’m trying to get into the coaching side of things, so Burtie told me he’d help me out,” Aleardi said. “Offered to teach me things that he wished he knew, and things I wished I knew, as a player when you get into pro hockey.”
Burt has helped Aleardi learn the difference in thought processes between a player and a coach and to show him how to teach. Aleardi is implementing that knowledge with his younger teammates, specifically 21-year-old first-year pro Ilya Nikolaev, who he rooms with on the road.
“You want to be able to teach young guys and show them the right way to do things,” Aleardi said. “Things that I didn’t have when I was 21.”
When he arrived in Rapid City before the season, Aleardi skated with the Badlands Sabres, the local NA3HL junior team, both to get prepared for training camp and to do a bit of instruction to younger players. He ran drills with the coaches and started ramping up for Rush training camp and his 10th pro season.
The 2022-23 season with the Rush is Aleardi’s second season back stateside after his six years in Europe. He didn’t always plan to spend so much time overseas. When he first went pro after a Major Junior OHL career that featured stops with the Kitchener Rangers, Belleville Bulls, Plymouth Whalers and Windsor Spitfires, Aleardi was a self-described “in-betweener” who bounced up and down from the ECHL to the AHL His rookie season in 2013-14, he spent 41 games in the AHL with the Springfield Falcons and 23 in the ECHL with the Evansville Icemen. He found success in the AHL, where he has 20 goals and 21 assists over 92 career games played, but he never stuck as a regular in the league that is one step below the NHL.
“I was playing ten minutes a night and still putting up points,” Aleardi said. “At 5-foot-9, it’s tough to play fourth line and really wait for your opportunity. So I figured I’d go to Europe for a year or two and show that I can play at an elite level.”
That year or two turned into six. It featured stops in Sweden, Austria and France. He produced at a high level, won a few championships and learned a new style of hockey, one that he feels has made him a better player.
“It’s a very different game over here than it is over there,” Aleardi said. “I’m very fortunate to play in so many league to where I can figure out what works and what doesn’t.”
Aleardi, who was born in Indiana and spent his formative years in Michigan, started to feel comfortable overseas once he reached his second season.
“Once you get to your second year, you start to understand the way things are and that the hockey is played a little bit differently,” Aleardi said. “The atmosphere in the locker room, not speaking the same language, there’s a barrier there. But once you get used to that, it’s pretty good living actually.”
It helped that he wasn’t alone. Throughout his pro hockey journey, Melissa has been by his side. They first got together when he was 19 and got married in 2019. She was with him in Europe from his first year in Sweden in 2015 through his last year in France in 2021.
“She’s been very supportive, and I can’t say that enough,” Aleardi said. “It’s not easy what the wives and girlfriends go through. Especially my situation—going to Europe, leaving family, leaving school. She took a big risk. I owe her more than just a ring.”
He’s leaning on Melissa again with the decision of where in the area they will buy their home and what is on the must-have list.
“I’m a pretty easy guy when it comes to that,” Aleardi said with a chuckle. “She’s got a big checklist. As long as I get a little desk with my Xbox there, I think I’ll be OK.”
Rush fans should be thrilled that Aleardi wants to stick around. The 30-year-old has seven goals and 16 assists over 25 games thus far. He won ECHL Player of the Week in November after a week during which he scored two goals and five assists over three games. He has the longest point streak of the season for the Rush, is second on the team in points and tied for the team lead in assists.
Above all, he feels good. He’s healthy, and the desire to be on the ice is still there.
“I’ve seen guys play until 37, 38,” Aleardi said. “I feel like I’ve been lucky enough not to have too many injuries in my career. If things go right, I can hopefully play for as long as I can.”