WEST VALLEY CITY, UT — While it wasn’t the end results the Rapid City Rush were hoping for as they kicked off “Year 11” there were definitely some positives to take away from their pair of road games against the Utah Grizzlies.
Friday night’s contest saw the Rush face off against an old foe in former Colorado Eagles’ goalie Joe Cannata. The netminder continued to be a thorn in Rapid City’s side as they found difficulty in getting the puck past him.
Joshua Winquist got the home team on the board first when he fired a wrister by Rush netminder Tyler Parks just 2:57 into the game. The Rush would knot the game back up at 1-1 halfway through the frame when Adam Marsh buried the puck behind Cannata with 10:48 left in the frame. This was also Marsh’s first professional goal. Utah bounced back with a pair of late powerplay goals with five minutes left in the frame, both by Caleb Herbert, to build a comfortable 3-1 advantage heading into the first intermission.
The teams would remain in the 3-1 deadlock until the final minute of regulation when the Rush pulled Parks for a 6-on-4 advantage, thanks to a penalty to Matthew Pufahl for hooking. Instead of Rapid City pulling within striking distance, the Grizzlies extended their lead with a shorthanded empty-netter from Tim McGauley at 19:24. The Rush would answer back with a powerplay goal from Shaquille Merasty with 14 seconds remaining in the game but Utah would skate off the ice with the 4-2 win.
Special teams continued to be the difference Saturday night when the Rush found themselves on the wrong end of the whistle, sending players to the penalty box ten times.
Utah was the only team to light the lamp in the opening frame of “Round 2” with Winquist doing the honors once again. With just 4:44 gone by, and on Utah’s first power play of the night, Winquist fired the puck on net which bounced off the pad of Rush netminder Michael Bitzer for the 1-0 advantage.
Then the floodgates opened.
Just 42 seconds into the middle frame, Kevin Davis rang a shot off the bar to double Utah’s lead. Just over a minute later, former Rush forward Ryan Walters was able to sneak a rebound shot by Bitzer to give Utah a huge 3-0 advantage. Rapid City was finally able to get on the board at 5:02 thanks to their special teams unit. Steven Tarasuk scored his first goal in a Rush sweater as he fired a rebound from the slot to beat Cannata and cut the deficit to 3-1. The Grizzlies did get the final say in the closing minute when Matt Berry deflected a shot from Davis to give Utah a 4-1 lead heading into the 2nd intermission.
Special teams were on point for both teams in the final frame as the Rush pocketed a shorthanded goal at 8:02 when Andrew Radjenovic scored his first of the season to pull Rapid City’s deficit to 4-2. But a pair of powerplay goals by Utah’s Herbert and Berry kept any Rush rally out of reach and lead to the 6-2 final score.
On the weekend, the Rush netminders didn’t fare too bad when playing even-strength hockey. Tyler Parks made 23 saves on 27 shots Friday night. Michael Bitzer stopped 30-of-36 shots Saturday night with three of those coming on a man advantage for the Grizzlies. While the results aren’t what the Rush were hoping for to kick off the season they definitely have positives to build on and get their first win.
Rapid City: Has their home opener against the Kansas City Mavericks as part of a two-game set on Saturday night, with the rematch on Sunday afternoon.
Utah: Plays a two-game series against the Idaho Steelheads this Friday and Saturday nights.