The lights were brighter and the stage was bigger when the Rushmore Thunder took on the Watertown Lakers at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center as part of Hockey Day South Dakota.
The result was the same as it has been lately for the Thunder, as they won their eighth straight game 4-2.
"It’s pretty cool, I‘m sure there are guys who enjoy it," Rushmore coach Dick Novak said on playing in the Civic Center. "It’s professional, it’s a nice facility, so for the guys I think it’s a nice deal for them. I would honestly like to see us get more games down here, I don’t think this rink is overused so I think they could allow for a few more games down here."
Thunder forward Camden Nayman said it was a privilege to play on the same ice as the ECHL's Rapid City Rush.
"It was a great opportunity, we grew up watching these guys so to be able to play where they play was a really cool experience," he said. "Their ice is a lot better, that’s what you get when you play on a professional rink. It’s still fun, it was a good time."
The Thunder went up early in the first period and never looked back. With 11 minutes, 51 seconds to play, Seth Stock got the goal on assists from Kael Drezler and Ryan Nolan on a power play.
Rushmore got another goal in the first with 5:15 to go when Alec Humke's shot was originally deflected by the Watertown goalie, but trickled behind him and past the red line before he could swat it away. Stock assisted.
Novak said he was happy with the first period, but was frustrated with the way Rushmore gave up two late goals and took its foot off the gas after the first.
"We started out really well, and halfway through the game we were playing solid," he said. "Whether we don’t have a killer instinct, or just start to think we’re better than we are, we just kind of let them back into the game. I want us to put pressure on them, get after it, play simple and smart hockey."
Still, the Thunder did get two goals in the second period to build their lead.
Mason Martin scored 30 seconds into the period with help from Nolan on a power play. Blake DeVries then scored with 11:58 to go in the period on assists from Scott Kendrick and Duncan Chisolm.
The Lakers got a goal back before the period was done when Mason Loyd got Watertown on the board. He was assisted by Brandon Matson and the goal came with 4:57 to go.
C.J. Barton scored the second Watertown goal, which came with 45 seconds left and was assisted by Connor Bramer.
That goal irked Novak, because although it didn't have much of an impact in the final score, he viewed it as sloppy.
"I’m a little disappointed that we gave up that goal at the end because John played a really solid game. It hurts John’s stats, not that I’m a stats guy but I always like to see our goalie have good stats," he said. "We need to come back and get after it. If we play well at the beginning and go up a few goals, lets not just lay down or think we have it locked up."
He pointed to a time last season when the Thunder went to Pierre to take on the Oahe Capitals and instead of letting up after getting up big Rushmore kept its foot down and won 11-0.
That team went on to win the state title, Novak said he wants to see that kind of aggressiveness in this year's team.
"Watertown is a really good hockey team, so why would we think we can slow down? Everyone of those professional coaches will tell you the same thing, never let those teams back in the game," he said. "We haven’t had a really good game from start to finish all year."
Still, after starting 0-4 the Thunder are now 8-4 in South Dakota Amateur Hockey Association play. They sit only two points behind Sioux Falls, who has 18 compared to the Thunder's 16.
"At the beginning of the season our chemistry wasn’t really there, but we’ve been clicking ever since," Nayman said. "If we keep our team chemistry going we should be fine. There’s a lot of younger kids this year so we just had to get to know them."
The Thunder and the Lakers meet again today at 3 p.m. at the Thunderdome.