As the Rushmore Thunder boys' varsity hockey team skated off the ice Sunday, winner's of the third annual Rendevious at Rushmore tournament, coach Dick Novak knew that the work was just beginning.
Despite an undefeated weekend where the Thunder won on the first tie-breaker (goals allowed) Novak said that while his team played well at times, other times he saw average play.
"I don’t think we come to play all the time," Novak said after a 4-1 win in the last game of the tournament against the Gillette Wild. "We played pretty hard in this game, but we have to try to get the puck in the net more, we had a lot of good opportunities to score. In some of the games we didn’t skate real hard. We moved the puck well at times but other times we played like individuals, so good and bad, a lot of work still to do."
A lot of work remaining seemed to be the theme of the weekend for the Thunder. Despite going 4-0 which included a 9-0 win against the Boissevian Broncos, a 7-1 win over the GBC Wildcats, a 12-0 win over the Bozeman Ice Dogs and the 4-1 win over Gillette.
Rushmore tied in the standings with the Watertown Lakers and Oahe Capitals, both South Dakota teams it will see in South Dakota Amateur Hockey Association play, and one because it only gave up two goals in the tournament while Oahe finished second with eight goals and Watertown third with nine goals.
Gillette finished fourth at 1-3 with 19 goals allowed, Boissevian fifth at 1-3 with 25 goals allowed, GBC sixth at 0-4 with 24 goals allowed and Bozeman seventh at 0-4 with 32 goals allowed.
Novak said he sees value in early-season tournaments like this because it can show a team where it is and what it needs to improve upon. For the Thunder, Novak believes the biggest thing is focus coming into a game.
"That was our M.O. last year from the get-go. We would come out last year and not be ready to play, we did it all the time last year. We’re a little better so far this year, we thought, so we have to learn to come to play right off the bat and get going early on," he said. "It can tell us a lot, it shows where our weaknesses are, it shows that we have to come and be ready to practice and get better.
"We have a long way to go, we have a lot of upperclassmen so by now we should know how to come and be ready to go, but we still have to remind them to push themselves."
Novak was happy with the way his team played defense throughout the weekend, which was something he said was going to need constant addressing throughout the season, but thought Rushmore could have put away more scoring chances, especially against Gillette.
Ryan Nolan had two goals for Rushmore in the final game, both coming on rebounds that were a result of Nolan getting to the net. He said if the offense can do that more, the goals will come.
He also said that while getting four wins to start the season is good for the team's confidence, there is plenty to improve on.
"One of my teammates shot the puck and I crashed the net hard and on both of those I just got the rebound. I think it’s looking where you’re shooting, looking for an open spot on the net and going for rebounds," he said. "It’s a good confidence booster to get a few wins under our belt, we need to work on our power play and penalty kills so it puts less pressure on us."
Confidence will be key as Rushmore starts SDAHA play this weekend against the Sioux Falls Flyers.
Novak said he believes Sioux Falls will be a team to watch out for this season, but was also impressed with Watertown and Oahe. During the tournament, South Dakota teams went 12-0 and outscored their opponents 91-19.
That means that it could be anyone's state title to win this season.
"The state is playing some good hockey so we’ll definitely have to be ready to go," he said. "I was impressed with Watertown and Pierre (Oahe) and I know Sioux Falls is going to have a good team. Brookings is going to have a good team, so there could be six or eight teams that can play with anybody so we’ll have to be ready to go."