The Rapid City Rush will begin a milestone year with a new look.
Training camp for Rapid City’s fifth-anniversary season in the Central Hockey League starts Monday on new ice at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Ice Arena.
The Rush have signed a slew of young players to go with seven returnees from last year’s 38-22-6 squad that finished fourth in the CHL’s Turner Conference and fell to eventual Ray Miron President’s Cup champion Fort Wayne in the opening round of the playoffs.
“We’re real excited. We’ve got a lot of real good hockey players coming in that have done real well in major junior, NCAA and CIS, also a good mix of older players,” Rush coach Joe Ferras said.
Back for the 2012-13 season are Rush captain and forward Scott Wray, defensemen Jordan Behler, Garrett Gruenke, Michael Couch and Riley Weselowski and goaltender Tim Boron.
Forward Winston Day Chief impressed as an amateur for the Rush during last year’s playoff run and returns as a rookie this year.
Forward Mitch Stephens returns to the Rush after three years playing in Germany. Stephens played 19 games during Rapid City’s inaugural season in 2008-2009, scoring five goals and seven assists.
Also coming from Europe is veteran forward Jarrett Konkle.
After a season beset with injuries, even resulting in the league granting the team an extra injured-reserve spot, Ferras and general manager Tim Hill decided to retool this year’s team with more youth and grit.
The camp roster lists eight players coming out of the National Collegiate Athletic Association or Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) ranks, including forwards Jordan Baker (Michigan Tech), Jeff Lee (New Brunswick-CIS), Derek Elliott (Mercyhurst-NCAA), Justin Faryna (Wisconsin-Superior-NCAA) and defensemen Brock Sawyer (Elmira-NCAA), Mike Glaicar (Quinnipiac-NCAA) and Scott Brannon (St. Xavier-CIS).
“The young guys bring a lot of energy, their drive and desire to be a pro. That’s going to energize our older guys too,” Ferras said.
Four previous signees not on the training camp roster include forwards David Solway, obtained in a futures trade with the Tulsa Oilers, Mike Sgroi, signed to bolster the toughness factor, A.J. Hau, formerly with the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles and rookie Tracy Findlay.
Joining Boron in net is rookie net-minder Neil Conway (St. Mary’s University). Danny Battochio continues his recovery from season-ending ACL surgery in February, and isn’t expected to return to playing status until later this fall.
“Tim’s coming back after a tremendous year. He jumped in and carried the load when Danny got hurt,” Ferras said.
“Danny’s going to do whatever he can to get where he needs to be. We’ll make decisions accordingly at the time,” Ferras said.
Conway backstopped St. Mary’s to a CIS national championship in 2009-2010.
“This is his first shot at pro hockey. He’s got a real good pedigree behind him and we’re confident that he can make the jump,” Ferras said.
Newcomers expected to lead the offense are forwards Damian Surma from the Dayton Gems, Rusty Masters from Laredo and John Snowden from Quad City, with former Colorado Eagles defenseman Kyle Peto bolstering the blue line.
Gleicar and Behler attended American Hockey League camps in Peoria and Worcester.
The week will start with workouts with Rush conditioning coach Scott Benson and drills and scrimmages in preparation for exhibition games with the expansion Denver Cutthroats Friday and Saturday at the Ice Arena. The Rush open the regular season at Bloomington on Oct. 19.
“We want to get the guys legs under them. We’ve got two pre-season games Friday and Saturday. We’re trying to get prepared for that. We’ve got a lot of young kids and we want to make sure they get thrown right into the fire,” Ferras said.
The ongoing National Hockey League lockout has resulted in teams assigning players to their AHL and ECHL affiliates, with the ripple effect of more AA level players becoming available. Ferras expects to have more players in camp as early as today and foresees a lot of player movement in the early part of the regular season.
“You might start with a certain lineup and things will change pretty quick. The longer the strike goes, the more players are going to be available. The trickle-down is going to have an effect on a lot of teams this year,” he said.