The Rapid City Rush's two-year experiment as an ECHL affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes is over, with a new chapter in the franchise's history beginning.
The Rush announced Monday that they will be the affiliate of the Minnesota Wild starting this season, with a pipeline to the AHL's Iowa Wild.
"We’ve a great relationship these last two years with Arizona and we felt like, with our fan base being predominately Minnesota Wild (fans) we thought it could be a great opportunity for us," Rapid City general manager Joe Ferras said. "We reached out to the coach of the AHL (Iowa Wild) Derek Lalonde who I know very very well and we got the ball rolling."
The Rush were able to change their affiliation because the Quad Cities Mallards, the former Wild affiliate, became the ECHL affiliate of the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL.
"We are excited to announce a new affiliation agreement with the Rapid City Rush," Wild senior vice president of hockey operations and Iowa Wild general manager Brent Flahr said in a statement from the Wild. "Rapid City is a terrific hockey market that includes a lot of Minnesota Wild fans and provides our organization with another great opportunity for developing our players."
Ferras said discussions began last Tuesday and the deal was finalized Friday.
"It’s a scenario where everyone knows that it’s a first class organization from top to bottom with the Wild. From their player development to their coaching staff at both levels," he said. "It’s really exciting for us and I think it’s going to be great for our corporate partners and our season ticket holders and it’s great for the community of Rapid City."
The move will mean some roster turnover.
The Rush have many players who are signed to ECHL contracts, therefore they are not property of Arizona, but not all players fit that mold.
The players who were drafted and signed by Arizona but spent time in Rapid City this season will not be joining the team next season, because Arizona still has their rights.
Those players may go to the Coyotes AHL affiliate in Tucson, or join whichever team the Coyotes align with from the ECHL.
Mark Cooper, who was second on the team in points with 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points in only 48 games is one of the players that Arizona still has rights to. Hunter Fejes will also not be back next season (38 points in 48 games) and goalie Marek Langhamer will not be back.
Last season Arizona finished 11th in the western conference of the NHL and went 30-42-10 while Minnesota finished second in the conference with a record of 49-25-8.
In the first seven seasons of the Rush's existence they did not have an affiliation, but in 2015 they announced that they would be part of the Coyotes organization.
The two seasons that followed were the worst in franchise history. Combined Rapid City went 56-73-11-4, missed the playoffs both seasons and finished last season in last place in the mountain division.
During the previous seven seasons the Rush had made the playoffs every season.
Ferras said he doesn't believe the affiliation with Arizona was the reason the Rush missed the playoffs the last two seasons. Most of the players on the Rush roster during the past two seasons were signed by the team, and the players that were moved down from Tucson, Ferras said, performed well in Rapid City.
"Every coach recruits their team like they aren’t getting any players (from the AHL), that’s the best way to recruit your team," he said. "You know you’re getting players that have already been scouted, signed and developed at the highest level of division I hockey and juniors. You look at our players last year, Hunter Fejes, Mark Cooper, they were two of our best players on a nightly basis, and they were Arizona picks."
New head coach Daniel Tetrault said he is excited to work with players picked by a front office that has produced some good seasons in recent years.
"I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to developing these young guys and getting quite a few of them (in Rapid City)," he said. "They draft very well, also they’re going to have good prospects so I’m excited for that opportunity."
The Rush begin the 2017-18 season Oct. 13 at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center with a two-game series against the Allen Americans.