Kelly Klima knows how to make a big first impression.
Playing his first game in about eight weeks, Klima scored four goals to lift the Rapid City Rush to a 4-3 win over the Utah Grizzlies on Friday before a raucous crowd at the Ice Arena at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
The win in Rapid City’s home opener was icing on the cake for the Rush as they celebrated the 10th anniversary of their CHL championship and hoisting the Ray Miron Presidents’ Cup.
“The place was electric, and having that championship team here, it just brings back a lot of memories,” Rapid City coach Daniel Tetrault said. “We hope it gives motivation for the guys to make the playoffs and a deep run just like 10 years ago.”
While Klima provided the goal-scoring lift, the Rush held the Grizzlies to three goals after they’d scored 21 goals in the previous three games.
“They’re a high-octane offense,” Tetrault said of Utah. “Backchecking and good defensive zone coverage was the key then starts and stops and not swinging away from checks. Only allowing three goals against a team like that, I’ll take it.”
Klima, who has been sidelined for about eight weeks with a high ankle sprain, started the scoring with a breakaway goal. Tyler Polusen hit Klima as he broke free mid-ice to put the Rush forward in alone on Utah goalie Mason McDonald. Klima went five-hole to beat McDonald for a 1-0 lead with 8:11 left in the first period.
The Grizzlies took a 2-1 lead in the opening 10 minutes of the second period on a pair of power play goals.
Colin Jacobs snuck a tough angle shot from the Rush end line past Erik Kallgren on the glove side to deadlock the game at 1-1 at the 15:46 mark. The Grizzlies went up 2-1 with another power play goal. Josh Dickinson took a pass from Taylor Rickart and scored from the left faceoff circle.
The Rush, who Tetrault felt were a step slow early on, found their legs and began to take play to the Grizzles. Giovanni Fiore found Klima to McDonald’s right and Klima wristed home his second goal, beating the Utah goalie on the glove side for a power play goal and tying the game at 2-all.
Peter Quenneville slid a cross-ice pass to Klima at the 2:24 mark of the third period and Klima patiently beat McDonald glove side for a 3-2 Rush lead.
Klima’s fourth counter came as the teams scrambled in front of the net and he was able to chip home the game winner.
“I was just in the right place at the right time,” said Klima, who need only one game to match Fiore for the team lead in goals scored with four. “My line mates were moving the puck around and they made it so easy for me.”
Dickinson got his second goal of the game, snapping home an equal strength goal from Kallgren’s left to put the Grizzles with 4-3 with 3:45 remaining in the third.
A late penalty by Poulsen put the Rush in a bind in the final two minutes. Utah pulled McDonald, leaving Rapid City two men down in its defensive zone. The Rush kept traffic away from Kallgren, who made a couple big stops. Then the Rush pinned Utah along the boards for much of the final minute to salt the game away.
“Give credit to the guys,” Tetrault said. “They dug down and dug deep.”
The Rush and Grizzlies face off again tonight at the Ice Area, with the puck dropping at 7:05 p.m.