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A changing of the guard will take place this season at the Rushmore Thunderdome with Tuesday’s announcement by the Rushmore Hockey Association that longtime boys' varsity coach Dick Novak will be relinquishing head coach duties to former Rapid City Rush standout Brendon Hodge.

And while coaching changes can come in many different flavors, the Rushmore change would seem to be a win-win situation for the all parties concerned.

“Absolutely. I think the timing just happened to be right,” Dr. Chris Dietrich, President of the Rushmore Hockey Association, pointed out. “Dick was just looking to kind of cut back from what is an arduous travel schedule, and he has coached with Brendon before, and saw Brandon as the type of individual to whom he could pass the baton. And with Dick staying on as an assistant coach, RHA hockey will definitely benefit. Dick has set the culture and set the bar high for hard work and success and created an identity and a tradition of how hockey should be played that has become the foundation of the RHA organization.”

For Novak, the grounds superintendent at Arrowhead Gold Course, stepping aside from head coaching duties while remaining in an assistant capacity will allow for a more relaxed schedule. And one that will still allow a chance to stay active in a sport he has enjoyed since growing up as a rink rat in St. Paul, Minn.

“I’ve had a good run and things have been good. And I’m getting a little bit older here, so I’m just going to be an assistant coach and help out where I can,” Novak said. “I’m really looking forward to it. And it isn’t if I’m getting away from the program, just changing how much I have to put into it. Brendon and I have been talking about making this change ever since he came on as my assistant. And it was always my plan that when I did step down, I would still coach in some capacity. I still want to go out to the rink and help out kids since I still think I have something to offer.”

Novak has offered much to the Rushmore Hockey Association since taking over the Thunder boys varsity in 2008, a program that had struggled considerably during the RHA’s formative years.

He did so in quick-step fashion as well. Two years after coming on board, Novak led the 2010 boys varsity to the first of four South Dakota Amateur Hockey Association state titles (2010, 2014-15, 2018).

“All of them have been special, but the 2010 team stands out for sure,” Novak reminisced. “We had had a really good year, but still we finished fourth in the league and I’m sure nobody expected us to win. But we beat Pierre 3-2 in overtime in the semis, and then beat Brookings in the final, scoring a goal with about 30 seconds to go. Winning that first one was awesome. Really a fun weekend.”

Dr. Dan Petereit, former RHA president, whose son Justin played on the 2010 championship team — younger sons Mark and Brian also played on state championship teams — remembers that weekend as well. And most importantly, what made that weekend possible, and the others to follow.

“Obviously, Dick has been an excellent coach, but more importantly, he had been an excellent role model for his players,” Petereit said. “Not only did he want to produce quality hockey players, but he wanted to produce quality people. That was important to Dick over the years to teach life skills, and he certainly did that. He was tough coach at times, but it was tough in a good way. He was very ethical in how he coached and he really saw the big picture. I think that in South Dakota, he is one of the best coaches that the South Dakota Hockey Association has ever seen.”

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Hodge, the son of two-time Stanley Cup champion Ken Hodge and a member of the Rapid City Rush 2010 championship team, returns to Rapid City after a successful three-year stint as head coach of the Gillette Wild of the NA3HL during which his teams compiled an 83-52-6 record.

And while realizing that following in the footsteps of a man who has been the face of Rushmore Thunder hockey during an 11-year stretch of state championship hockey may present a challenge, Hodge considers the man with whom he learned his coaching chops an excellent role model.

“My first coaching job after my playing days was with Dick (the 2014 state championship team). And seeing how he related to his players, and the way he was willing to work with me and keep an open mind in doing different drills and doing different things was impressive,” Hodge said. “It just seemed like in talking and working together, we worked perfectly as a team.”

With that experience in mind, Hodge is unconcerned at the thought of having Novak standing in his shadow.

“It will be fun to have him around,” Hodge said. “And Dick will still be highly involved. That’s one thing I made sure everybody knew when I took the job. From day one, Dick was always going to be involved with this team. One of the reasons I took the job was to work with Dick again.”

In addition to taking over head coaching duties of the Rushmore boys varsity, Hodge will be assuming the position of director of player development, a newly created position within the Rushmore Hockey Association, the emphasis of which will be on individual skill development.

“It’s a new position and I’m working with the board to make this position what we hope it can be,” Hodge said. “Just having talks with Dr. Dietrich and other people on the board, I see a passion to take this organization to the next level. That’s great to see since it is a parent run association, and they are very busy people. It’s impressive to see what an all-volunteer organization can do.”

A continuing commitment to excellence and a couple of coaches who share a love for the game promises to make for another exciting season of Rushmore Thunder hockey.

“Dick and I are very similar in how we love the game and respect the game and we want our players to respect the game as well," Hodge said. "I’ve always said that you will get out of hockey whatever you put into it. If you put in an honest effort, hockey will pay you back.”

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