The 2018-19 season for the Rapid City Rush was one without an affiliation, featured a flurry of trade deadline moves, a new owner and president and a push to the playoffs.
Although eventful, it also ended earlier than Rapid City would have liked.
The Rush missed the postseason for the fourth straight season with a 30-33-5-4 record and 69 points which was good for fifth in the mountain division.
"Next year playoffs are the goal, it stings for these guys not being in," Rapid City coach Daniel Tetrault said. "They know the feeling and we have a good thing going, the guys jelled at the end of the year, it was an up and down season. The changes we’ve made were crucial, there’s a sense of urgency with new ownership and a new team president."
Those changes happened March 7 and included the departure of then captain Riley Weselowski to the Florida Everblades, Shaquille Merasty to the Orlando Solar Bears, Josh Elmes to the Fort Wayne Komets and Pierre Luc-Mercier to the Manchester Monarchs.
In return, the Rush got Liam Bilton and Jack Riley (through Reading) from Florida, Taylor Crunk (through Fort Wayne) and Myles McGurty from Orlando, Alex Rauter from Fort Wayne (through Manchester) and Dexter Dancs from Manchester.
Justin Faryna was named captain when Weselowski was traded and said the moves energized the team.
"Things started to turn around after that," he said. "The trade deadline occurred and we did our best to make it to playoffs, still had a chance and we fought until the bitter end."
A 20-game stretch from Dec. 15 to Feb. 2 Rapid City went 3-13-3-1, which Tetrault said drastically hurt the Rush's playoff chances.
He also said the Rush's 27-20-2-4 record throughout the rest of the season has the players believing that next season could be a special one.
"A lot of the core group will be back, they want to be back," he said. "We’ll have some tough decisions to make in training camp next year but that’s what you want as coaches and a organization."
The day after the moves at the trade deadline, former vice president of sales for the Kansas City Mavericks Todd Mackin was named the new president of the Rush.
That decision was made after Jeff Dickerson and Spire Sports and Entertainment were introduced as new partial owners with Scott Mueller.
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In his opening press conference, Mackin said he wanted to explore the option of finding and affiliation with an AHL and NHL franchise during the Summer.
Rapid City was affiliated with the Minnesota Wild during the 2017-18 season, and that agreement wasn't renewed for last season so Rapid City went through the year as a independent team.
With the Summer now here, Mackin said some calls have already been made to NHL teams without an affiliation. The NHL teams that did not have an ECHL affiliate going into the 2018-19 season were the Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadians, Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks.
He also said as teams are eliminated more calls will be made.
"We want someone who works with us. A lot of times in the ECHL at the AA level, it’s like ‘here, take these guys,’ and you have to be able to give and take from both sides," he said. "I want one that our coach has a great relationship with, and one that has the same values as we do. We want good people not just good players, someone that wants to build a winning culture like we do here and hopefully that culture goes from AA to AAA to the NHL together."
Tetrault said affiliation can work well if the situation is right.
"There’s always pros and cons with affiliations. Obviously we’d like to have one but it has to be the right deal for both the NHL club and our club," he said. "Affiliations help talent wise, you can get those top tier players but you can’t have as many as we had with the (Minnesota) Wild, too many guys in and out of the lineup. If it doesn’t work we’ll go back to being independent."
Another pro Tetrault pointed out is the potential influx of goal scorers that could come from an AHL or NHL club, which he said the team desperately needed this season.
Rapid City finished last in the league in goals scored with 168, the next closest team was the Greenville Swamp Rabbits who had 192.
"As coaches we check stats everyday, I know what’s going on," Tetrault said. "We definitely need some top-end snipers. Defensively and goal-tending wise we’re fine, we do a top-end defenseman or two, but it’s still early. There will be a lot of calls made this summer. We know what needs to be addressed."
It was announced Saturday that the winner of the third annual Blaine Jarvis Heart and Soul award was awarded to Cedric Montminy.
He said the end of the season sparked the optimism that the team is going to take into the offseason.
"Everyone is excited because we believe in our chances for next year," he said. "We had a great run at the end of the year with the guys we brought in at the trade deadline, everyone bought in and we’re excited. Everyone is ready to go and we know what we’re capable of. The future is bright here."