At the beginning of the season, Rapid City Rush coach Daniel Tetrault said he thought he had a young team that cared and could be incredibly resilient.
After a 0-3 start, the last weekend against the Tulsa Oilers may have put the ECHL on notice.
Rapid City swept Tulsa with three games that either went to overtime or a shoot-out. In the last seven games the Rush have earned at least a point, and their record sits at 5-3-1-1 with 12 points.
They currently sit in third place in the mountain division, and Tetrault said the fun could just be getting started for Rapid City.
"Unbelievable weekend, every game was a battle. These kids are just resilient and determined to win, they’re jelling together, bonding together well and it’s a tight knit group, both on and off the ice," he said. "We finished every check, and it wears on teams so by the third period; we’re just an unbelievable third period team, and overtime as well. They’re just great kids to coach."
Finishing checks is one of the things Tetrault said he wanted to see his team do when he was hired to take over for Mark DeSantis in June 2017. That, and getting as many players to the net as possible.
In the 2017-18 season Tetrault said Rapid City's affiliation with the Minnesota Wild that sent 14 players with NHL contracts to the Rush put a dent in his plans. During the summer Rapid City announced it would be independent this season, and that means that Tetrault has had the opportunity to work with the players that he wants to work with.
"I don’t want to knock Minnesota but I didn’t know I was going to have up to 14 contracted guys from the Wild and I tried to incorporate that style, but I had too many egos, and too many guys that weren’t willing to do it from the Wild contracted guys. That’s what was so frustrating as a coach, the guys weren’t willing to pay the price and be physical," he said. "These guys are going to the net, finishing their checks and it’s wearing on teams. I ‘m enjoying coaching these guys, because what I tell them to do, they’re doing."
Thursday it was Pierre-Luc Mercier who was the hero with a goal in overtime to give the Rush a 3-2 win. Friday, Rapid City trailed 2-0 going into the third period but scored two goals in the final 20 minutes, and eventually won in a nine-round shootout.
Saturday was a rare moment where a shot by the Rush beat the buzzer, literally. With under a minute to go and trailing 3-2 Rapid City pulled its goalie and had five quick chances at the goal.
A puck was kicked into the corner and centered by Andrew Radjenovic where the puck was gathered off his skate by Mason McCarty and he was able to find the back of the net with .6 seconds remaining.
In overtime it was Brayden Sherbinin who scored to give the Rush their fourth straight win.
Tetrault said he also likes the size and toughness of his team. He cited an instance where Cedric Montimy and Tulsa's Ryan Tesink exchanged words, and Montimy's entire line had his back and was chirping at the Tulsa bench before everything was all said-and-done.
"I’ve got an intimating team. I’ve got big guys, I’ve got physical guys and I’ve got scoring," he said. "It’s a good overall team and the goaltending, what can I say? (Adam) Carlson and (Michael) Bitzer have been lights-out and that gives a lot of confidence to the team when they come up with big saves and key times."
Carlson is 3-0-1 with a .940 save percentage and a 2.03 goals against average while Bitzer is 2-1-0 with a .910 save percentage and a 3.41 gaa.
The mountain division has a log-jam at the top. The Utah Grizzlies are currently first, at 5-1-3-0 with 13 points while Tulsa is 4-0-2-2 with 12 points, and is in second because it has played fewer games than Rapid City, which has the same number of points.
Behind the Rush sit the Kansas City Mavericks at 5-1-1-0 with 11 points and the Idaho Steelheads at 4-6-0-1 with nine points in fifth. At 3-1-3-0 with nine points, the Wichita Thunder are sixth with nine points and the Allen Americans are seventh at 3-6-0-1 with seven points.
"If you look at the results, a lot of our teams are losing in overtime this year, so there’s a lot of parody and it’s going to be a grind right until the end of the season, it’s going to be playoff hockey right until the end," he said. "We’re in the toughest division, by far, again this season."
Tetrault gave his players Sunday and Monday off because the last six of seven games have gone into overtime.
He said he isn't concerned, because he expects there to be many games like that in the mountain division this season.
"They need their rest. The way we play, the physicality, it’s hard on the body," he said. "I love those kind of games, and we’re finding ways to win. There’s going to be a lot of games like that this year, it’s just the way the division is. It makes it more exciting for the fans too."
The Rush begin a three game series with the Fort Wayne Komets Wednesday at home, with the other two games coming Friday and Saturday night.
Fort Wayne is 3-5-0-0 with six points and won its last two games at home.
"They’ve been a powerhouse in every league they’ve been in," Tetrault said. "They’re hungry, they’re not used to being under .500. They’ve got guys who are coming off injured reserve who were important guys for their lineup so they’re going to be stacked and healthy, we have to be ready."
Wednesday's game begins at 7:05 p.m. at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.