BOISE, Idaho – When Rapid City Rush defenseman Riley Weselowski was looking to start his professional hockey career, he was just a 23-year-old, four-year graduate out of Bemidji State University in upstate Minnesota. Pursued by then-Idaho Steelheads Head Coach Derek Laxdal, Riley eventually ended up with the organization, skating his first professional game against the Utah Grizzlies on October 8, 2008 in downtown Boise.
Who knew that ten seasons later, on November 14, 2018, he would play his 600th professional game in the city where it all began…and against the team that he’ll always call his first.
“It’s incredible (that it’s come full circle),” Weselowski reflected. “I knew I was around 14, 15 games away from 600 (when the year began)…you take a peek at the schedule, where you’re going to be if things go right and you play all those games. I was excited that it was in Boise.”
The Wednesday night match was the first of a three-game set Rapid City had on the road against Idaho. During the game’s first media timeout, Idaho PA announcer Britt Talbert took a moment to recognize Riley’s benchmark in games played. After proclaiming his milestone to the crowd, the fans then gave Weselowski a standing ovation, no doubt in appreciation to where he began and how far he’s come.
“It did surprise me a little bit that Britt gave me the shoutout,” Weselowski admitted. “But, after the fact, it doesn’t surprise me one bit. Because I tell you what…Britt Talbert is one of the best. I was only (in Idaho) for a short time, but the people were so great to me. Everybody involved with this organization was so good to me while I was here.”
It’s those time-forged bonds that serve as Riley’s motivation to keep playing.
“That’s probably been the most rewarding thing about being able to have this career is the relationships I’ve made — whether it’s the equipment guys or the radio guys from the other team, being able to sit in the hallway and talk about things that happened nine, ten years ago. I’ve been pretty fortunate to make those relationships, and it’s a big reason why I love this sport so much.”
The warmth of the Steelheads organization was crucial for Weselowski’s first two seasons in the ECHL. Riley did not play a full slate of 72 games in either year, battling two separate injuries during different points of each season.
“I missed the end of my first year with a torn knee. So, I thought I would come back for a second year. Then, I broke my back the first game of that season, and I was out until about January.”
Thankfully, Riley was able to make a full recovery and return to the Steelheads line-up. But, when he returned, Weselowski was faced with the difficult decision of moving on and looking elsewhere to continue his career.
“When I came back (in 2010), I ended up going to Rapid City [then in the CHL] because (Idaho) was pretty loaded on defense and was first in the ECHL.”
That decision turned out to be a life-changing one for Riley in all the best ways. He’s now playing in his fourth ECHL season with the Rush after five seasons with the club in their CHL iteration. As of December 17, his nine total seasons in Rapid City makes up 487 of his 600-plus professional games played. This year also marks his second as team captain, serving as alternate multiple seasons for both the Rush and during one season played with the Cincinnati Cyclones in 2015-16.
With the vast majority of his career spent in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Weselowski wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I absolutely love it. We just kind of set up shop there…my wife and I have a house there, and we just had our first child. I’m really enjoying it in Rapid City.”
Back on the ice, it didn’t hurt that Weselowski’s 600th game came on the tail-end of a win, with the Rush coming back from a 2-0 deficit to emerge victorious, 3-2, in a shootout.
“I’m happy because we got the win. When you get to 600 games, you have a few milestones along the way, and they’re obviously that much sweeter when you can come out on the right side of the scoreboard.”
Rapid City has also continued to battle through close games beyond their mid-November set with Idaho, with the team jockeying for playoff position early on instead of dwelling in the basement of the Mountain Division (like much of last season). Team success, no doubt, plays a continued role in his affinity to keep playing hockey at the professional level.
“I’m having a lot of fun with this team this year. A lot of guys are really buying in for each other. We’ve found some ways to win some games where we’ve been down late in the game. I still love it as much today — or probably more — than I did when I started. I’ve been pretty fortunate to have the career I have.”
Did You Know?
When Riley Weselowski started his pro career in early October 2008, the world was a tad different than it is today…
- The Rapid City Rush played their first season in the Central Hockey League, bringing the CHL to 16 teams for the 2008-09 season
- George W. Bush was the President of the United States
- With his two-term limit reached, Bush was set to be replaced by one of two candidates, Barack Obama (D) or Senator John McCain (R), in the presidential elections that November
- The Financial Crisis of 2008 was the worst economic situation the U.S. had faced since The Great Depression of the 1930’s
- The New York Giants upset the undefeated New England Patriots just eight months before to capture Super Bowl XLII by a score of 17-14
- The number one song in the U.S. that day was “Whatever You Like” by T.I.
- The reigning Stanley Cup Champions were the Detroit Red Wings, with forward Henrik Zetterberg taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoffs MVP