For an inconsequential game, The Rapid City Rush and Idaho Steelheads put on an entertaining performance Saturday night at The Monument Ice Arena.
After the Rush surrendered a three-goal lead, goalie Adam Carlson turned away a penalty shot with just over a minute left in regulation to keep the contest tied, then a would-be go-ahead goal in the final 30 seconds was reviewed and ruled no dice.
Rapid City’s season finale had to be decided late in overtime, where Ryan Dmowski fired a wrister past Carlson’s blocker from the right-wing circle and found the back of the net with 52.9 seconds to play to give Idaho a 7-6 victory in front of a 97% capacity crowd.
Rush head coach Scott Burt, displeased with how his squad went out, said the game was a microcosm of the 2022-23 season.
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“That was our season in a nutshell,” said Burt, who wrapped up his second season on the Rapid City bench. “These games are tough; meaningless for us, really meaningless for (Idaho). Guys are just trying to get through without getting injured.”
Alex Aleardi, a 30-year-old veteran who skated in every game this season, eclipsed the 30-goal mark for the second straight year by scoring twice and adding one assist. Jimmy Soper earned himself a two-goal, one-assist performance, while Weiland Parrish and Brett Gravelle also scored. Calder Brooks and Quinn Wichers dished out two assists apiece.
Adam Carlson faced a barrage of shots, including 29 in the second period alone, and finished with 53 saves in the loss. He finished his comeback season with a 15-15-2 record, 3.35 goals-against average and 0.897 save percentage.
“It’s good for guys to get some goals and get some points, and get that extra jump for next season, feeling good about the game for next year,” Burt said. “Because they’ve got six months off now to reflect on this. As crazy as it may sound, they’re going to go back home, in a week they’re going to say ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda,’ and that’s what sucks.”
After Matt Register, a main receiver of boos from the crowd over his extracurriculars during the series, put the Steelheads (58-11-4) on the board 5:31 into the contest by flicking a backhander past the glove of a screened Carlson, the Rush (33-34-5) rattled off four straight goals to take a commanding lead early in the second period.
Soper started things off by deflecting a shot by Wichers from the point into the net at 9:30 to level the score, then Logan Nelson put a near-side shot on Idaho goalie Josh Boyko, who sent the rebound over to the other side of the net, where Parrish batted the puck out of the air and into the net to give Rapid City the lead at 14:16.
A slashing penalty gave the Rush their first power play of the evening later in the opening frame, and Soper took advantage just seven seconds in, off one faceoff, by deflecting a shot by Colton Leiter from the point into the net at 17:42.
Aleardi opened the second period by snapping a wrister over the left shoulder of Boyko from the right circle to make it a 4-1 game 1:07 into the middle frame.
Idaho began its surge back when Wade Murphy, on a 2-on-1 attack, snapped a shot over the right shoulder of Carlson from the right circle at 8:50 of the second, then cut its deficit to one when, after failing to capitalize on a 64-second 5-on-3 chance, scored at the 17-minute mark of the frame when Jack Becker fired a wrister from the right circle past the blocker side of Carlson.
The Steelheads’ 29 shots in the middle frame marked the most the Rush allowed in a period all season.
A scuffle at the end of the second period led to a double-minor call on Zach Walker for roughing, giving Rapid City four minutes of a power play to start the third. But just 31 seconds in, Willie Knierim grabbed hold of a turned over puck, kept it himself on a 2-on-1 and scored the shorthanded goal top shelf from the right circle to tie the game at 4-4.
The Rush answered six minutes later when Gravelle hauled in a long-range pass from Brooks in the o-zone and flicked a near-side shot from below the left circle that slipped past Boyko, giving Rapid City the lead again at 6:30.
Aleardi extended the Rush lead back to two later in the period with a flashy goal, racing against Boyko coming out of the net to reach the puck, sitting in the right circle. Aleardi got to it first, deked Boyko, then snapped a sharp-angle shot on a wide-open goal from below the circle and found the back of the net at 9:24.
Rapid City’s lead was far from safe, however, as Colton Kehler made it a one-score game once again when he seized possession of a puck Carlson came out of his crease to clear out. Kehler put a shot on frame with Carlson still retreating back to his net, and the puck sailed past him and between the posts for the goal at 11:29.
Jade Miller re-tied the contest with 3:13 to play in regulation with a simple wrister from the right circle. With 1:03 left, he earned a penalty shot after getting hooked by Keegan Iverson on a breakaway. He sailed into the crease from the right side and deked to his backhand, but couldn’t push the puck past Carlson.
Idaho seemingly took the lead with 30 seconds remaining after getting a puck past Carlson on a rebound. Initially ruled a goal, officials reversed the call following a review, all but sending the contest into overtime.
The Steelheads won it on their 60th shot of the night, capping off their historic regular season with their 58th victory. They broke the ECHL single-season wins and points records Friday night in their 4-1 win over the Rush.
“With the ebbs and flows of the season, (the game) was up and down, up and down, very inconsistent,” Burt said. “And that was our season all year.”
Rapid City, eliminated from postseason contention Friday night, now heads into the offseason while the Kelly Cup Playoffs get underway. Burt said he’ll probably re-watch every game of the Rush’s roller coaster campaign and try to “mastermind” something for next season.
“I’m going to reevaluate,” said Burt, who also serves as the team’s general manager. “I have meetings, starting Monday, with all the players. I’ll be in touch with our affiliation, and just see what went right, what didn’t go right, what we need to change for next year and then just reevaluate.”
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