RAPID CITY, S.D. — What kind of difference does an off-season make?
More like what kind of difference does a single weekend series make.
Heading into the 2018-19 season the Rapid City Rush were up against the ropes looking for ways to turn around numerous downfalls the jewel franchise of the Black Hills were facing.
The Boys from the Black Hills have finished last in the Mountain Division the previous two seasons and fourth in the West Division during the 2015-16 season. The last time they qualified for the playoffs was their first season in the ECHL, 2014-15, when most of their competition was former Central Hockey League (CHL) teams that made the last-second leap to the ECHL.
Their average crowd size peaked at 4,932 for the 2010-11 season after they won the Ray Miron Presidents’ Cup in the CHL but still didn’t drop below 4,497 through the 2013-14 season. Since joining the ECHL, it has dramatically dropped each year ending at 3,053 last season and they are only averaging 2,124 for the current season.
We’ve made this comment before but it looks as though the best thing to happen to this team may be dropping their affiliation with the NHL/AHL. Too many times since getting an affiliate they would see players get on a hot streak and get called up to the next level which would throw the chemistry off as other players were sent down to replace them.
Fast forward to this offseason and the announcement is made that the Rush will no longer have an affiliate at the NHL/AHL level.
The Rush got off to their typical start to the season losing a tough road series to Utah being out-scored 10-4.
Since that series, however, the Rush have yet to lose a game by more than a single goal with one loss coming in regulation (3-2 to Kansas City on 10/20) and two during extra hockey (3-2 in a shootout on 10/26 and 6-5 in overtime on 10/27, both to Allen).
The Rush used the fuel of rallying from a 5-0 deficit against Allen to force OT and gain a point in the standings to garner a 2-0 win in regulation that gave them 4-out-of-6 points in that three-game series.
Would that momentum carry into a road trip to Tulsa to take on a top team in the division?
In season’s past, it would have been anyone’s guess as the team was so full of ups-and-downs you never knew which team was going to take the ice each night.
But this year’s edition is coming together to fight through any adversity.
They aren’t afraid of being down and they refuse to throw in the towel, as was evident in winning all three games against the Oilers in extra hockey that propelled them from the basement of the Mountain Division to a tie for first play with Tulsa by the end of the weekend.
While the first month of the season is never a true indicator of how a season will finish it at least gives the fans in the Black Hills hope that their team is finally turning the corner.
We tried to get a statement from Rush head coach Daniel Tetrault on his thoughts through the opening month of the season but received no response so far.
Word is he’s been busy on the waiver wire and getting his team prepped for an old foe: The Fort Wayne Komets.
The same fire the team has displayed over their last two series seemed to flame out in the opening period last night as the Rush were outgunned by the visiting Komets in the opening period. Adam Carlson stood tall for them between the pipes while Andrew Radjenovic pocketed the only goal in the frame to give Rapid City a 1-0 edge. Rapid City’s powerplay unit gave up a pair of shorthanded goals in the middle frame, however, that put the visiting Komets back on top. Though the Rush had their chances in the final frame it would be Fort Wayne skating off the ice with an extra two points in the standings for the win in regulation.
This was Rapid City’s first loss in regulation in their last seven games.
Should the recent wins and starting the season at 5-4-1-1 (12pts) continue through the month of November, then we’d be surprised if the attendance doesn’t start to climb heading into December.
If Wednesday night’s tilt is any indication of how this series will go, Fort Wayne and Rapid City will play with the same vigor as they did in season’s past.