FT. PIERRE — Doubling it up here, Rapid City.
A night after the St. Thomas More girls won a state basketball championship, the Rushmore Thunder, a squad composed of boys from Stevens, Central and Douglas high schools, claimed the second Rapid City-area championship trophy of the weekend, topping the Sioux Falls Flyers in a 4-3 overtime thriller to claim the South Dakota Amateur Hockey Association state varsity title at the Expo Center.
The overtime win, the second extra-session win in two nights for the Thunder, came a minute after Rushmore had successfully killed off a Flyer power play opportunity. The goal came from a very unlikely source, as defenseman Seth Dikoff squeezed in on the left point and slapped home the game-winner and season-ender at the 2:35 mark of overtime.
The outcome was made even more remarkable — and thunderous — by the fact that the goal was was the first of the season for the hard working blue liner.
“The puck came out to me at the point, and I knew I just had a couple of seconds to get the shot off so, I just let it rip and it went in,” Dikoff said of his shot blast that sailed over the glove side shoulder of Sioux Falls goalie Tony Seykora. “Remarkable. This win just validates everything we’ve done the last few years, to come together as a team and be able to win these kind of games.”
For Rushmore coach Dick Novak, who has coached the Thunder to four state championships (2010, 2114-15, 2018), the winning shot couldn’t have come at a better time, or from a better angle.
“It was so cool because, from our bench, we were right behind him and could see the puck all the way heading right for the upper corner of the net,” Novak said. “That was neater than heck. Seth Dikoff has been with us for four years and has worked hard; everyone of them, so for him to get the winning goal is very deserving.”
The back-and-forth affair favored Sioux Falls in the opening moments as the Flyers, benefiting from quick transitioning in the neutral zone, applied early pressure necessitating a couple of big saves by Rushmore goalie John Young (25 of 28 saves).
“I expected it from them in a championship game, knowing they would be going all out,” said Young. “So I was ready and our defense stepped up as the game went along, which helped, and our offense kept the puck in their zone a lot, too, which helped.”
Sioux Falls got on the board first early in the opening period, a wrister in the low slot by Ryan Dinsmore. The Flyer lead was short-lived as Ryan Nolan, assisted by Brian Petereit and Zach Bender, knotted the game at a goal apiece a minute and 46 seconds later.
“I was in front of the net waiting for a rebound to come out, and it did right to me. I just tried to put in on net, and thankfully it went in between the goalie and the post,” Nolan said. “After beating Brookings last night and getting that chip off our shoulder we felt great today, and then to come back and win in overtime today couldn’t get be any better.”
The first-period fireworks continued as Austin Stiles, tapping in a nifty pass from Derrick Brown from behind the net, put the Thunder up 2-1. This time Sioux Falls tallied the quick equalizer, a power-play goal by Trey Ponto to close out the exciting first period.
Though the Thunder killed off back-to-back Thunder penalties early in the second period, including a 5-on-3 disadvantage, Sioux Falls regained the lead midway through the frame on a goal by Keegan Anderson and carried a 3-2 lead into the third.
Down a goal, Rushmore amped up the afterburners in the third period, dominating possession and outshooting the Flyers 11-5 in the period — and 46-28 in the game. Perseverance paid off as aided aided by a Flyer penalty, Rushmore drew even on a Gavin Gary goal with 4:45 remaining in the game, setting up the Thunder’s second overtime thriller.
“It was kind of hectic, and I got the puck at the point and tried to shoot it as hard as I could, and it went my way and the rest is history,” said Gary, who despite a collar injury was on the ice for most of the last two periods. “It’s my senior year and the guys have been working so hard all year, so it’s good to have the season end the way we wanted it to.”
Novak said for Gary to play like he did in the last two periods injured, and then score the goal, was huge.
“That is one gutty performance from an 18-year-old kid," Novak said.
And then, of course, there was the overtime.
“I think we wore them down towards the end, but at the end of the second period we were running out of gas, too,” Novak said. “I told our guys to go into the locker room and just relax. Don’t start yelling and screaming just get your energy back. And I thought we played a good third period and that carried that into the overtime.”
The state championship capped off a 19-1-1 season for the Rushmore Hockey Association boys, and the Thunder career for nine seniors.
“I’ve won four of these titles, and though I’m proud to have been a part of all of those teams, this might be the most fun of all,” Novak said. “This is the third state championship for this group, peewees, bantams and now high school. This is a great group and I’ve had so much fun coaching them. I’m so happy for these kids because they put in the work and are very deserving of a state championship.”