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After fighting for 60 minutes of a hockey game only to come to a tie score, the pressure and intensity ramp up in the overtime period.

It's a time when one mistake can be the difference between leaving with two points and a victory, or one point and bad taste in your mouth.

This year, the Rapid City Rush have thrived in those situations.

The Rush already have more overtime/shootout wins in 17 games than they did all of last season.

Last season Rapid City went 3-8 in those situations, including 2-8 in overtime, and the change has been simple but not easy for Rapid City coach Daniel Tetrault.

It's a matter of patience.

"We’ve been in a lot of one-goal games, so we’re used to the tight games. I think that helps a lot, we’re more patient," he said. "When we don’t have the puck we just stay tight in the house area inside our own end and let them play around, and once there’s a turnover, then we go one offense and I think that’s why we’ve been more successful."

Tetrault also changed the strategy for how he plays the 3-on-3 format. Where most teams put three forwards on the ice, Tetrault is a believer that there has to be at least one defender on the ice. He's even played two defensemen and one forward at times.

"I’m thinking we’ve got a good shootout team, so I’ll take my chances in a shootout," he said. "It's just being more patient and less aggressive and when we get possession we bring it back and we bring everyone back with speed."

The Rush topped the Brampton Beast in a eight-round shootout Nov. 3, beat the Colorado Eagles in overtime two games in a row Nov. 10 and 11 and topped the Tulsa Oilers 2-1 in overtime Saturday night.

The difference from last year to this year has been confidence, according to Tetrault, and players buying in more.

"Last year we had a lot of guys who would cheat and go for hope plays. We’d turn it over and they’d be gone 2-on-0 or 2-on-1 or 3-on-2, and they’d bury it, so this year I have the guys be a bit more patient and not gamble so much. Last year it was feast or famine, and it didn’t pan out," he said. "The guys know they can win, and know what it takes. It’s a confidence booster so they stay more calm too.

"Everyone wants to get that OT winner, and I have all the skill in the world too (on the team), even my 'D' men can skate well and are very mobile, so I’m not afraid to put two 'D' men out there and one forward, which I’ve been using a lot this year."

One of those defensemen who has proven to be a good skater and scorer in overtime is Matt Caito. The offseason acquisition from the Toledo Walleye has an overtime and shootout winner this season, both at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

"So far we’re doing well in getting that extra point. I think we have all the confidence in the world. When we’re stepping into overtime, we’re not sitting back and saying, ‘let’s go for a shootout.’ We’re saying, ‘hey, let’s go and win it,’" Caito said. "It’s awesome, it’s a good feeling. It’s hard to describe, especially doing it at home for me, and the fans just going absolutely bananas, which was awesome."

One of the reasons the Rush have a good shootout team is that Rapid City works on that part of the game, according to Caito said.

He would know the importance of working on a shootout. Against Brampton earlier this month, Caito ended what was an eight round war between Beast goalie Andrew D'Agostini and Rush goalie (and future Iowa Wild call-up) Steve Michalek with a goal.

"When goalies are hot in a shootout it can last forever, it seems like," Caito said. "We do shootouts a lot in practice, so when you’re up you just stick to your move. Then go out there and try your best and if you can bear down and finish the game, that’s the best part about it."

Caito and the Rush aren't immune to the pressure of overtime and tight games, as they have been in eight one goal games. He said the key is maintaining poise and staying aggressive as a player, even if the scheme is about patience. 

"It’s difficult, but the best way to handle it is to keep playing your game and go for the win," he said. "You can’t sit back because that’s when you get in trouble, so you want to be aggressive and attack any chance you get, is the biggest part about overtime."

The Rush will be in Texas for the weekend for a series with the Allen Americans. Allen sits in third in the Mountain Division with a 10-6-2-1 record with 23 points while Rapid City sits in last in the division with a 6-10-0-0 record and 12 points.

Both games will begin at 6:05 p.m.

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.