After a 10-1 win Saturday over the Fremont, Nebraska Flyers, it would be easy to predict an easy Rushmore Thunder win Sunday at the Thunderdome.
That was not the case.
In a chippy, physical game Rushmore topped Fremont 5-1 in a game that was closer than the final score indicated.
"Fremont is not a 1-9 team or whatever their record shows, they’ve played much better hockey than that and it was tough today," Thunder coach Dick Novak said. "It’s not like we played bad but we had to grind, maybe after winning 10-1 we didn’t come out with quite the intensity that we should."
After a strong first period, Fremont held Rushmore scoreless in the second period and trailed 3-1 entering the final frame, with Fremont holding the physical edge.
Penalties kept Fremont from generating enough offense to get the two goals back, which helped the Thunder secure their 11th South Dakota Amateur Hockey Association win and send their seniors off winners in their final game at the Thunderdome.
"I thought in the first period we came out strong, and in the second period our heads got too big and we played down to their level and thought we were better than them," Thunder senior Jacob Lindblom said.
Lindblom had two goals and an assist Sunday after recording an assist Saturday during the 10-1 win.
"You always have to play hard, we went into the locker room in the third period and realized we had to pick it up if we wanted to get out of this game with a win."
Lindblom got the scoring started early, finding the net only 24 seconds into the game off assists from Derrick Brown and Austin Stiles.
With 9:21 left in the first Camden Nayman on an unassisted goal, and Rushmore ended the period with a goal from Zach Bender on an assist from Brian Petereit with 27 seconds left.
The second period belonged to Fremont. Both teams were chippy, but the chippy plays turned into pushing, shoving and trash talking.
Novak said there's nothing wrong with sticking up for yourself on the ice, but he also said he doesn't think the Thunder have to play that kind of game.
"We’ve got such a good skating team, we don’t have to get caught up in that stuff, I’m not saying we shouldn’t take the body if it’s there and play a little physical but we don’t have to go looking to get it," he said. "When it’s there in front of you, take it, if the check is there take the check and if not then play the game the way it’s supposed to be played."
Lindblom admitted that playing in physical games can be hard, but teams can rebound with a little big of composure.
"Let them get all the penalties because if you’re in the penalty box you’ve got four and they’ve got five and it’s harder to play that way," he said. "If you have five guys and they have four guys it’s just a lot easier to move the puck and score more goals."
Fremont scored the only goal of the period only 49 seconds in, Luke Krzemien scored off an assist from Jesse Thompson. The period ended with Rushmore still leading 3-1.
Thunder goalie John Young has had games this season where he hasn't had to stop many shots on goal, but he was able to stay sharp within the first two periods by stopping 16 shots and he stopped 21 shots Saturday.
Fremont managed only two shots in the third period so he ended with a weekend total of 39 saves.
"Johnny gave us a really good weekend, I think he took about 40 something shots and only gave up two goals," Novak said. "John played solid, he held us in there when they were really coming for us."
In the third period Fremont spent most of the period in defensive mode, as it was short-handed from 10:43 remaining to 2:37 remaining in the period.
The Thunder scored before the penalties caught up with Fremont, as Brown scored on assists from Lindblom and Seth Dikoff with 14:01 remaining.
Rushmore really shut the door with 3:03 remaining when Lindblom scored his second goal of the night on a power play and off assists from Brown and Stiles.
It was also the last game the Class of 2018 will play at the Thunderdome, and although there is plenty of season remaining, it was hard not to look back at a class that Novak said has been special.
"A lot of really good, solid seniors and these guys have been around for a long time, they’ve won Pee-Wee and Banom championships, hopefully we can get it all together and grind one out for them this year too," he said. "It’s a really solid group of hockey players. They should be proud of their accomplishments and Rushmore hockey should be proud of them, they’ve carried the Rushmore banner for a long time and they’ve carried it well."
Lindblom said there's too much ahead of him to look back, but did say it's been a fun ride so far.
"It’s going to be a game we remember for a long probably, but I don’t think like to think about it as my last home game, even though I’m probably not going to play here competitively anymore," he said. "It’s been a long time that I've played here and I'm excited for the future."
For now, the future is a big road weekend for the first place Thunder. At 11-1-1 with 23 points, Rushmore is ahead of Sioux Falls by five points for the top seed in the SDAHA tournament but has three road games first.
The action starts Friday when it takes on the Oahe Capitals in Pierre, then continues Saturday and Sunday when it faces Watertown.