When new Rapid City Rush head coach Daniel Tetrault was introduced earlier this summer, he talked about changing the culture that has kept the Rapid City out of the playoffs for the past two seasons.
Monday, that change began on the ice.
The Rush opened training camp with a practice that was just under two hours Monday at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
"It was exciting to get on the ice finally with the guys, I’ve been in the office all summer doing paperwork and this is the fun part of the job," Tetrault said. "I thought the first day went really well, I thought the guys worked hard and battled hard, and that’s what I want to see this year. It was high intensity and we didn’t go too long but I’m there were some guys who were a little tired."
Tetrault said he wanted to make the culture more accountable and wanted his team to be tougher than it was last season.
"We all know what happened last year, everyone has a bad taste in their mouth from what happened last year, we’re changing the culture and it started day one at practice," he said. "We’re establishing that culture right away and the players know it."
Missing from training camp was 10 members of the Iowa Wild who will be skating with the team today.
The practice yesterday was the first step towards getting to the final Rush roster together. Many of the players skating on Monday will not be part of the opening day roster, with cuts coming Wednesday after the a scrimmage.
"I wanted a big camp because I wanted guys competing for their jobs, and knowing that their jobs aren’t secure 100 percent," Tetrault said. "Even if they were here last year, that doesn’t mean anything."
For guys like Anthony Flaherty, the butterflies of his first professional hockey camp are mixed with stress because the 25-year-old recent Norwich University graduate is playing for his job.
"I, like a lot of guys, want what’s best for the team," he said. "I’m obviously a competitive person but I do understand that it’s a business. Coaches have a job to put the best lineup in at the end of the week so guys just have to sort of work as hard as they can and make the most of their opportunities."
Matt Leon was one of the goaltenders brought into camp from the SPCHL's Peoria Rivermen. He said he knows that players will be cut and he's trying to focus on doing his job and not his prospects.
"I try to not think that way. I try to control what I can control," he said. "I try to mind my own business, do my own thing and at the end of the day I can sleep at night knowing I did my best. It does come in your mind sometimes, but it’s a job."
Marcus Ortiz was on the team for 13 games last year at the end of the season, so he witnessed what happened to the Rush last season as they went 26-38-8-0, finished last in the mountain division and missed the playoffs for the second straight year.
The season has stayed with Ortiz and some of the other players who are coming back. Ortiz said he was in contact with Rush veterans Anthony Collins, Riley Weselowski, Michael Young and Logan Nelson throughout the summer.
All the players were eager to get back on the ice and put the past season behind them.
"We were looking forward to coming back and starting fresh and that’s the biggest thing, walking into the rink now, it’s a breath of fresh air compared to what it was last year," he said. "We’re really trying to turn things around here and after day one you could tell the intensity here. Everyone is excited to get back, that’s what you want, we wanted to create an atmosphere where everyone is excited to come to the rink everyday."
Wednesday will be a telling day for the Rush, as Tetrault and assistant coach Nello Ferrara will draft teams and both will scrimmage. Tetrault and Ferrara will watch the scrimmage (which will be open to the public and starts at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center) and make their cuts Wednesday night after the scrimmage.
"I think everyone has a little bit of stress, they’re playing for their job but at the end of the day it’s a job that everyone in the world wishes they had, that competition creates nothing but good things," Ortiz said. "Yeah, everyone is a little stressed, but at the end of the day you control what you can control and that’s how hard you work. I think we’re laying the right foundation for that and that’s creating a culture that works hard everyday."
Tetrault remembers his playing days and said that there is more pressure on the players now than when he was a player.
"It can be stressful, I want guys to work hard, compete, it was different in years past when you had small training camps and guys knew that their jobs were secure, now it’s different," he said. "There’s only three leagues including the NHL so there’s a lot more guys looking for jobs and there’s a lot more guys in camp."
Flaherty echoed the sentiment of many of the first-year rookies who are in their first camp. They believe the Rush are changing their culture and they want to be a part of it.
"This year I think we have the right leadership in place, some older guys who are trying to change the culture towards a winning one so I’m happy to be here now and be a part of it," he said. "Going forward hopefully I can help out down the road but for the next couple of days it’s focusing on doing our jobs."