With the season winding down and playoff hopes precarious at best, the Rapid City Rush needed an infusion of youthful energy and exuberance to close out the season ,as well as to brighten hopes for next season.
On the March 7 ECHL trading deadline day, the Rush did exactly that, trading a number of veterans for a six-pack of young players. In exchange for veterans Riley Weselowski, Shaquille Merasty, Josh Elmes and Pierre-Luc Mercier, Rapid City acquired forwards Alex Rauter, Dexter Dancs, Jack Riley, Liam Bilton, Taylor Crunk and defenseman Myles McGurty.
Though the Rush were hoping to address some shortcomings, the late flurry of activity came about somewhat unexpectedly, Rush coach Danny Tetrault pointed out.
"The deals came suddenly on the morning of deadline day. We had received some phone calls earlier from teams looking for veteran players for a championship run," Tetrault said. "And when the names of these young guys came up, we made a lot of phone calls to coaches, college coaches, junior coaches and got some film on them, and we liked what we saw.”
With that perspective, a youth movement went full bloom.
Not surprisingly for a Rush team that has struggled to put the puck in the net this season (the Rush are 27th and last in the ECHL in goals scored), the influx of new players is heavily tilted toward offense with five forwards among the six newcomers.
“One thing we needed to address was the scoring upfront,” Tetrault said. “We needed more scoring and we did that with these guys. They were tough decisions for sure, but I and Nello (assistant coach Nello Ferarra) felt a sense of urgency. We needed to be faster, younger, and more talented scoring wise to keep up in this division, and I truly believe that we accomplished that and came out ahead on these trade deals”
If the proof is indeed in the pudding, coach Tetrault has a valid point as Rapid City is 4-1 since the trades were made, an accomplishment considerably aided by the new names on the roster.
In Monday’s 4-3 road win over Utah, Rauter keyed the win with two goals and an assist.
“As soon as I got here, the guys were really inviting, and it’s exciting team like this, and to be able to help out the guys like I did on Monday was really special. I enjoyed playing on the pk unit, power play, and doing whatever I can do to help the team,” said Rauter who ended up in Rapid City via a multitude of deadline day trades. “On deadline day, I went from Manchester to Allen, got picked up by Ft. Wayne and then on to Rapid City. Somebody said it was an ECHL record with being on four different teams one day. But I couldn’t be happier with coming to Rapid City and getting a really good opportunity to play.”
Riley, a forward, brings not only considerable skill, but an impressive hockey pedigree as his grandfather, John Riley, coached the 1960 Olympic gold medal winning USA hockey team, and his father, Brian, is longtime hockey coach at West Point.
You have free articles remaining.
“Definitely been awesome to come here,” Riley said following a Wednesday morning practice. “Coach put me in right away at center, and it’s been awesome to be killing penalties and seeing a lot of playing time. Coming from Reading, it’s a little bit different in that we had a lot of older guys there. But here everybody is on the younger side, so it’s cool to see the different style of play, watch everyone grow together, and be a part of a playoff push at the end of the year.”
Dancs emphasized that he had hoped for and expected to be traded.
“I wasn’t playing a lot in Manchester, and I had discussions with the coach in the weeks before the deadline about wanting to go somewhere and get more ice time.” Dancs said. ”And Rapid City seemed like that place, so I’m happy to be here. I’m kind of a power forward. I like to make plays with the puck and am willing to work hard on the boards.”
That the University of Michigan product is willing to muck it up on the boards and create scoring opportunities is borne out by the face that Dancs has accumulated four assists in his first five games in a Rush uniform.
Tetrault also expects to see notable contributions from the three other recent arrivals, Bilton, Crunk and McGurty.
“Crunk can definitely play and is a physical presence. I have him at center and he’s been playing great, too,” Tetrault said. “And Bilton is a physical phenom, while McGurty has been great on D as well.”
Tetrault pointed out that while Weselowski, a Rush captain during his tenure, and Elmes, an assistant captain, will be missed for their leadership qualities, Justin Faryna and Cedric Montminy are admirably filling those roles.
“Right now everything is clicking both on the ice, and with good chemistry in the locker room,” Tetrault said. “Faryna has taken over the leadership role as captain working with the young guys. And Montminy, since I put the assistance captaincy on his jersey, has lit it up. We filled a lot of holes with these trades. It’s been tough the last couple of seasons and there was a sense of urgency that we needed to do something, and sometimes tough decisions have to be made for the betterment of the team. The fans and the city deserve that.”
Though with seven games remaining, and the Rush (27-30-5-3, 62 points) trailing Kansas City (32-25-3-2, 69) by seven points for the final ECHL Mountain Division playoff spot and playoff hopes a long shot, Tetrault remained guardedly optimistic.
“Anything is possible. Kansas City lost last night and this is the toughest stretch they’ve had all season, so you never know. I tell the guys to just look at one shift at a time and not look at the standings," he said. "We definitely need help, we know that, but we just want to go out and play to our structure and see what happens.”
Rapid City’s final push for a playoff spot continues this weekend as the Rush host the Mountain Division leading Idaho Steelheads at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center (7:05 p.m. on Friday and Saturday).