A lot can change in 10 years — fashion, music, presidents. But one thing hasn't changed in Rapid City during that time: the Rush are still playing hockey at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
The franchise itself, however, has undergone some changes through the years. The Rush moved from the CHL to the ECHL and have gone through different NHL affiliations. They have seen the heights of a championship season in 2009-10 and the lows, like missing the playoffs the past two seasons.
As the Rush's 10th season gets started tonight against the Allen Americans, Rapid City is looking ahead at what the next 10 years with the hockey team will look like. It involves a new coach, new team president and a new NHL affiliation with the Minnesota Wild.
The franchise began an eventful offseason in late April by letting go of former head coach Mark DeSantis after a 26-38-8-0 campaign. Less than a week later, the Rush ownership group announced it had reached a deal with the civic center on another 10-year lease, meaning the team would have a place to play through 2028.
“It’s such a good thing for Rapid City," Rush owner Scott Mueller said when the announcement was made. "It does bring the town closer together. It’s something to do in the winter, and at this level, it’s great hockey. We felt very comfortable going for another 10 years. The first 10 years were great, and hopefully, we can bring another championship back here in the next 10 years.”
Another announcement came in June, when the Rush promoted assistant coach Daniel Tetrault to head coach. The first-time head coach was tasked with changing a culture that had fallen on hard times.
"I want guys to go through their checks at all times. We’re going to be a good forechecking team," Tetrault said when he was hired. "I want guys going to the net, not standing beside the goalie. I want guys right in front of the goalies' eyes that’ll pay the price to score a goal, and if they’re not going to do that, I’ll find someone who will. We’ve got to win those 2-1, 3-2 games. We didn’t win those last year, and it’s going to happen this year."
The Rush also signed a deal with the Wild in June and announced in September that Joe MacDonnell would be the new Rush president after Joe Ferras resigned to take a scouting job with the New Jersey Devils.
Throughout all the changes, all summer the message from Tetrault and newly hired assistant coach Nello Ferrara was the same: The culture going into the 10th season and beyond must change.
After a training camp and two exhibition games with the Colorado Eagles, Tetrault thinks the team is on the right track.
"It’s a total, total turnaround. Last season was a joke. I’m just being brutally honest," Tetrault said. "We had cliques, we had guys who did not care, off the ice as well, they didn’t care. We have 23 kids here that care, and that’s part of the culture change.
"Nello and I were on the phone all summer trying to get leaders in here. The fans deserve it, the owners deserve it, the players deserve it, the whole organization deserves it."
One of the players who has seen the franchise through its highs and lows is defenseman Riley Weselowski, who has been with the club since the 2009-10 season. He has won a championship in Rapid City and also been part of the current playoff drought.
Weselowski thinks the recent lack of success will only make the Rush stronger.
"Sometimes I think the best recipe for success is going through hard times. You learn from those down times," he said. "We’ve had that down time now, hopefully we’ve learned from it, and now it is our job to make sure that we are better because of it. If we do that, I think we’ll be successful this year ... .
"I think we’re in a pretty good place here for our 10th anniversary season. There’s a lot of excitement, and we’ve got ... a solid group in that locker room. We have a lot of work to do, but we’ve got a lot of great pieces in place to hopefully put something special together."
Team jelling early
Last season defenseman Michael Young scored 13 goals and registered 20 assists in 62 games for the Rush. He watched the locker room fall apart but doesn't think it'll happen this year.
"I think the biggest thing top to bottom is that we’ve gotten rid of a lot of the issues that we had last year. Throughout the camp and especially in the last exhibition game, you could see the guys really come together," Young said. "It was really tight right away, the guys are really sticking up for each other. We’re jelling really quickly. A lot of guys know each other from before and get along really well."
Tonight, the Rush take on one of their biggest rivals: the Allen Americans. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7:05 p.m.
The history of the rivalry is as long as the history of the two franchises. Rapid City beat Allen to win its only championship in 2010. Last season there were a series of line brawls during a game in February, and every game the two sides played was chippy.
"You know, there’s a rivalry. There’s a lot of different personnel, but it’s going to be an intense matchup because guys haven’t played since April or May," Tetrault said. "The players and fans, as well as Nello and I, we’ll be pretty pumped up as well. It’s going to be a fun weekend."