RAPID CITY, S.D. — The Rapid City Rush have returned home after a three-game road trip, and are in the middle of their six-game series against the Idaho Steelheads.
The Rush have continued their early season success as they took 3-out-of-6 points to open their series with the Steelheads with all three games being decided by a single goal.
Special teams were a heavy player for both teams as three shorthanded (two for Rapid City and one for Idaho) and two powerplay goals (both for Idaho) played key roles in deciding these close contests.
Wednesday night’s contest saw a slim Steelheads lead disappear while the Rush were on the PK. Pierre-Luc Mercier scored his fourth of the season to tie the game at 2-2 with just under nine minutes remaining in regulation. Rapid City would go on to win the game in a shootout with goals from Mason McCarty and Mercier while Adam Carlson stood tall between the pipes stopping both of Idaho’s attempts.
Idaho bounced back with a pair of wins to capture the first half of the series on home ice.
Special teams continued to play a major factor in Friday night’s contest as Michael Turner broke open a 1-1 tie in the middle frame with a shorthanded goal only to see the Steelheads tie the contest back up just over a minute later with a powerplay goal of their own from A.J. White. Idaho pocketed a second powerplay goal during the final minute of the frame, the eventual game-winner when Colton Saucerman tallied his second goal of the season.
And for the third game in a row, it was the special teams getting on the board. Idaho scored the game’s first tally while down a man just 7:36 into the opening frame Saturday night when Steven McParland picked up his ninth goal of the season. The Rush would counter just under ten minutes later off a goal by McCarty to square things up. It was the netminders that took center stage as Carlson and Colton Point put on a clinic shutting down a combined 63 shots over the final 40 minutes of regulation. Idaho clinched the weekend series with an overtime goal from Eric Sweetman, his second of the season, to give the Steelheads 5-out-of-6 possible points.
Home Ice Advantage
Idaho doesn’t bring a strong away record to the Black Hills when the series shifts to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center tonight. Through nine road games, they are boasting a 2-5-1-1 record and have lost three straight, once to the Kalamazoo Wings and a pair to the Toledo Walleye in early November.
On the flip side, the Rush on par at 3-3-1-1 through eight games played on home ice. Most recently they went 1-2-0-0 against the Fort Wayne Komets in early November.
Rapid City will look to get as much momentum as possible as they have a six-game home stand against the Steelheads and Grizzlies before they play their next eight games on the road.
Rush head coach Daniel Tetrault knows just how important the next six games are, but he still stresses “one shift at a time”.
“It’s crucial because it’s all home games and I don’t think we’ve played our best at home. We’ve got eight games in twelve days in December, all on the road. We’re going to be gone over two weeks so it’s real important we get as many points as possible and just gain ground on these guys and inch closer to the top.”
And being that the Rush didn’t have an exhibition game before facing Utah on the road to start the season, coach Tetrault likes his chances when the Grizzlies come to town next week.
“I don’t think Utah’s seen our best yet. We went into Utah with no exhibition games and a young team that didn’t know each other. They’re going to see a different team, that’s for sure.”
But they are still playing it one shift at a time. So first things first it getting things done against Idaho at home during Thanksgiving weekend when a lot of the players will have family in town.
Sin Bin Edge?
Is there any positive note to spending so much time in the box? According to coach Tetrault, there is.
Through 16 games the Rush have amassed 335 penalty minutes and currently lead the entire league in this stat. This doesn’t worry Tetrault, provided his team can stay disciplined while being down a man.
“The Eagles and the Americans, when they won they lead the league in penalty minutes and majors [penalties]. It’s team toughness. They stick up for each other. We finish off all our checks and we wear on teams…We just wear teams down.”
Will that trend hold true? The Rush aren’t shying away from sticking it to their opposition and will make you work for every goal you score.
No Affiliation? No Problem
We’ve touched on this point before, that not having an affiliate has been a positive for the Rush in years past and appears to be paying dividends again this season.
It gives the team an added ability to gel and form those bonds, both on the ice and in the locker room, that contribute to championships.
Coach Tetrault has seen this have a positive impact as well on the young season.
“We’re not changing line-ups. Guys with egos coming in from the American League thinking they’re too good for this league. Guys know they’re going to play a lot and not lose their spot to guys from the American League.”
Not having the possibility of losing a player that gets hot has definitely helped the Rush put together solid lines that are really coming into their own. As the season progresses and that bond builds it could become a driving factor to the Rush positioning themselves for a playoff spot.
What to Expect
The Rush will look to close out this series on a high note, as the first three games have been one-goal contests and special teams have played a significant role in the outcome.
Regardless of who is in net look for the defense to give their netminder protection to make highlight-worthy saves and the offense to generate just enough to pick up at least two wins. Don’t be surprised to see all three games go into extra time as Idaho is making significant strides and will keep every contest close.