The unique nature of Wednesday’s Rapid City Rush contest — a 10:35 a.m. puck drop — offered up a double dose of excitement. Not only was a near capacity crowd of enthusiastic Rapid City area grade school children in attendance as part of the 3rd annual Super Hero/School Day event, but the Rush were hosting the ECHL league leading Allen Americans.
The high octane (and higher than normal octave level) exuberance of the crowd apparently carried over to the Rush as the home towners put together one of the best efforts of the year in defeating the Allen in a closely contested 1-0 thriller.
“I’m really proud of the guys,” Rush coach Danny Tetrault said of his team’s first win over the Americans after dropping the first five games played this season, all of which were played on the road. “We were stuck in the airport coming back from Wichita for two days, and for the guys to come out like they did today and battle hard for each other is impressive. They blocked shots, took hits to make plays, back-checking and skating hard.”
After a scoreless opening period in which the Rush outworked and outshot (12-8) the visitors, but were unable to capitalize on a number of Grade A scoring chances, Cedric Montminy gave Rapid City the lead late in the second period (1:21 remaining) drilling a slap shot from a sharp angle along the side boards off the pad of Allen goalie Andrew Shortridge and into the net.
“I practice that a lot and like those type of goals,” said Montimy, the Rush assistant captain. “I got a good bounce from the boards and the puck came back, and that is something I like to work on in practice and it paid off today.”
The goal came off a couple of lengthy Rush possessions in the Allen zone.
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“I think the biggest difference today was our forecheck,” Montminy added. “The guys were making the hits and separating guys from the puck and working the puck from low to high and taking shots on net.”
That Montminy’ tally stood up was made possible by a superior effort between the posts by Rush goalie Merrick Madsen, who came into the game at the beginning of the second period in relief of starter Gordon Defiel, who was unable to continue due to illness.
“Even on the games that you aren’t starting, you are supposed to be ready to go, and I went through everything this morning as if I was playing,” said Madsen, who stopped all 21 shots faced in sharing the split shutout with Defiel (eight saves). I knew Gordy didn’t necessarily feel the best, and I had to be ready, though I didn’t know I was going out until right before the puck dropped.”
Clinging to a 1-0 lead heading into the third period, Madsen and his penalty kills mates were called upon early and often in the final period. A Beau McCue two-minute penalty at the close of the second frame carried over to third period — part of 6:58 seconds of Rush short-handed play in the frame, though Rapid City denied a tying goal in posting a big two-point win over the league leaders.
“Madsen didn’t have much time to think and just went in there and made some big, big saves,” Tetrault said. “Merrick had a rough game in Wichita and to bounce back like that was huge. He hasn’t played since November, so there was a lot of rust, too, in Wichita, and I couldn’t be prouder of his effort today. Those are two big points for us.”
Huge indeed as the Rush (26-10-4-0) are but four points ahead of Tulsa and Wichita (though having games in hand against both) in the race for the fourth and final Mountain Division playoff spot with 23 regular season game remaining.
The three-game series between the two teams continues on Friday (7 p.m.).