You'd expect the best of the Central Hockey League to put on a showcase.
The Rapid City Rush and the best of the rest of the CHL certainly delivered, lighting up the scoreboard with abandon at Wednesday night's CHL All-Star Game.
With great skills on display and defense at a premium, all-star games are known for being high scoring affairs. Wednesday's CHL midseason classic certainly didn't break the tradition, with the All-Stars outgunning the home-standing Rush 11-6 in front of 5,009 fans at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Ice Arena.
"We competed hard and obviously there was no hitting, but the big thing was everyone got through it unscathed. What an amazing two days and what an honor it's been," Rush head coach Joe Ferras said. "So many young players out there with a ton of skill and that bodes well for the future of this hockey league."
Wichita Thunder forward Matt Robinson and Evansville's Brian Bicek both served up natural hat tricks to lead the All-Stars to their first win since the game adopted a format pitting a home team or group against the rest of the league in 2009.
Bloomington's Jason Dale notched two goals and added five assists for a record seven-point night to earn All-Star MVP honors.
"In a word, phenomenal," Dale said of his all-star experience. "It was great playing with so many skilled guys. It seemed like everything I was passing was going in the net."
Bicek finished with four points on a goal and three helpers. Jason Krischuk (Texas Brahmas), Nathan Lutz (Mississippi RiverKings) and David Strathman (Allen Americans) also scored for the All-Stars.
Sebastien Thinel (Odessa Jackalopes) had five assists for the All-Stars.
"By far, that's the most talented all-star game I've seen in this league, and what a production by Rapid City and a great effort by their players," said Missouri Mavericks head coach Scott Hillman, who shared all-star team coaching duties with Dwight Mullins of Allen.
Robinson lit the lamp three straight times to give the All-Stars a 4-1 first-period lead. Rapid City's Derek LeBlanc cut into the All-Stars lead at the end of the frame.
But then the Rush came out swinging.
Rapid City's leading scorer Ryan Menei scored twice and 2009 All-Star MVP Konrad Reeder added a third tally in an all-star record-setting span of 36 seconds to give Rapid City its first and only lead of the contest.
"It's too bad we lost, but it seemed like the fans had a good time," Menei said. "They were loud as usual, and that's what this game is for, for the fans to enjoy the best the league has to offer. It was a lot of fun tonight as a player."
Rapid City's Andrew Smale, in his second consecutive all-star game after representing Amarillo in the 2010 edition in Laredo, scored his first goal in a Rush uniform in the first period.
Brendon Hodge also scored, with Scott Wray, Josh Beaulieu and Colt King all finishing with two assists for Rapid City.
All-Star starting goalie Kyle Jones of Colorado stopped 10-of-12 shots in the first period. Missouri's Robby Nolan made 17 second-period saves after surrendering the initial three goals. Dayton's Jeff Jakaitis finished up, stopping 13-of-14 shots in the third period.
Rapid City's Danny Battochio made 20 saves in 40 minutes of work. Newcomer Terry Dunbar, filing in for the injured Tim Boron, gave up Bicek's third-straight goal 19 seconds into the third period.
Ten days ago Dunbar was working for the family flooring business and coaching high school hockey for the Proctor Rails southwest of Duluth Minn.
He recalled Arizona's Joey Sides coming down the ice doing the "Michigan move", carrying the puck on the blade of his stick at shoulder level.
"There was a lot of skill out there. I thought I was going to wind up on YouTube," Dunbar said.
Ferras said the hospitality showed by the Rush, Rapid City and the Black Hills showed well for the CHL.
"From the banquet to the first-class operation to that crowd tonight, to see this last two days is a tremendous reflection on this organization and how we do things here," Ferras said. "We're very proud of what we do here."