Rapid City Rush 2023-24 Season Preview

The Rapid City Rush are only a few days away from puck drop for the 2023-24 ECHL season. Rapid City ended up having a longer offseason after the 2022-23 season, as they missed the 2023 ECHL playoffs. With the long offseason that gave players more time to recover from all the injuries the team suffered.

Forwards

The Rapid City Rush are looking to start their season with 13 forwards. The forwards consist of returners Alex Aleardi, Blake Bennett, Brett Gravelle, Logan Nelson, Weiland Parrish, Jimmy Soper, and Keanu Yamamoto. As well as newcomers Connor Bleackley, Maurizio Colella, Mark Duarte, Riley Ginnell, Keltie Jeri-Leon, and Rhett Kingston. The Rush are bringing back a core group of veterans in Aleardi, Nelson, and Soper who can really help mentor the young newcomers. But they are also bringing back some of the younger guys like Parrish, Yamamoto, and Bennett, who really started to find their game last season.

Along with many great returners, the Rush picked up some good young guys in Riley Ginnell and Mark Duarte. Ginnell played with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League (WHL) for most of the 2022-23 season. He played in 36 games, where he had nine goals and seven assists for 16 points. As well as 44 penalty minutes and a plus/minus of -1. In the playoffs, Ginnell played in seven games for the Pats, where he had one goal and five assists for six points. He had eight penalty minutes and a plus/minus of +3. Duarte spent the 2022-23 season with the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He played in 65 games, where he had 20 goals and 28 assists for 48 points. He had 21 penalty minutes and a plus/minus of -14.

The Rush also picked up a great veteran with a lot of experience in Conner Bleackley, who has four seasons and 133 games in the AHL with 11 goals and 22 assists for 33 points. This will be Bleackley’s eighth season in the ECHL. He has played in 217 games, where he has 54 goals and 71 assists for 125 points. He has 188 penalty minutes and a plus/minus of -22. Bleackley spent the 2022-23 season in the ECHL with the Maine Mariners, where he played in 32 games and had four goals and eight assists for 12 points. He had 19 penalty minutes and a plus/minus of -6.

Defensemen

On defense, the Rush are welcoming back Tyson Helgesen, Charles Martin, and Carter Robertson. The team is also adding TJ Fergus, Jarrod Gourley, Zack Hoffman, and Will Riedell. Bringing back Tyson Helgesen will really help the Rush on the physical side of the game, as he is the only player that was constantly laying hits and finishing his checks. Helgesen played in 66 games, where he had two goals and 14 assists for 16 points. He led the team in penalty minutes with 117 and had a plus/minus of -3. Another great re-signing for the Rush on defense is Carter Robertson. Robertson was the top defenseman for the Rush in the 2022-23 season, both offensively and defensively. In the 2022-23 season, he played in 55 games where he had five goals and 22 assists for 27 points. He had 48 penalty minutes and a plus/minus of +13. Robertson was the leading defenseman in goals, assists, and points. Robertson also led the team in plus/minus.

Goalies

The Rapid City Rush will see all brand new faces in net for the 2023-24 ECHL season with Matt Radomsky, Connor Murphy, and Jason Pawloski. Radomsky spent the 2022-23 season playing in the NCAA for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks. Through 34 games and 1993 minutes on ice, Radomsky had a record of 22-10-2 with two shutouts. He faced 810 shots where he had 742 saves and 68 goals against for a save percentage of .916 and a goals-against average of 2.05. Murphy also competed in the NCAA, but he played for the Union College Garnet Chargers. He had 1673 minutes on ice through 31 games for a record of 12-17-1 and two shutouts. He faced 841 shots, where he had 748 saves and 93 goals against for a save percentage of .889 and an average of 3.34 goals against per game. Meanwhile, Pawloski spent the 2022-23 season in the SPHL with the Fayetteville Marksmen. He had 1423 minutes on ice in 26 games, where he had a record of 11-12-1 with one shutout. He faced 807 shots where he had 737 saves and 70 goals against for a save percentage of .913 and a goals-against average of 2.95. Pawloski also got to see some ice time in the playoffs with the Marksmen. He had 181 minutes of ice time in three games with a record of 1-2-0. He faced 83 shots with 76 saves and seven goals against for a save percentage of .916 and a goals-against average of 2.33.

Notable Losses

While the Rush have gained some great, young players, that also means they lost other players. Max Coatta and Calder Brooks both signed overseas, Jon Martin signed with the Indy Fuel, Quinn Wichers signed with the Wheeling Nailers, Matt Marcinew, who signed with the Allen Americans, and Adam Carlson retired. Coatta, Brooks, and Marcinew were all some of the top forwards for the Rush last season, with Marcinew leading the team in goals (30), assists (38), and points (68), while Brooks and Coatta were tied for fifth in points with 41. Coatta also played in all 72 games of the season. Wichers spent a lot of time in the AHL last season, but when he was with the Rush, he was one of the team’s top defensemen and was a big presence on the ice. While Martin was injured most of last season, he had a huge presence on the ice when he played and was one of the more noticeable forwards towards the end of the season. Carlson was a fan favorite in Rapid and gave a lot to the team when he was here. All these players leave pretty big holes to fill, but it should make it fun to see how the team adapts to the holes left.

Last Season

Last season, the Rapid City Rush finished the season with a record of 33-34-5-0 with a win percentage of .493 and 71 points. The Rush finished sixth in the Mountain Division, tenth in the Western Conference, and 20th in the league. At home, the Rush were 20-13-3-0, while on the road, they were 13-21-2-0. All this ended with the Rush missing the playoffs. The Rush also had a few times where they had scoring droughts throughout the season. The Rush had 2550 shots on net last season for an average of 35.42 shots per game, which was fourth in the league, but they only scored 242 goals for 3.36 goals per game, putting them at 12th in the league. The Rush were able to get shots off but struggled to solve goaltenders. They had a lot of shots that would go straight to the stomach of the goaltender, which 99 out of 100 times is going to be a save. On the other side of the ice, Rush goaltenders faced 2434 shots for an average of 33.81 shots per game, which is 20th in the league. The Rush had 272 goals scored against them for an average of 3.78 goals against per game, which was 24th in the league.

Special Teams

It is no secret that the special teams, both powerplay and penalty kill, were an issue last season, with both of them being close to the worst in the league all season. Rapid City’s powerplay finished 23rd in the league. They had 282 powerplay chances during the season and only scored 46 times for a powerplay percentage of 16.3%. Their penalty kill was 27th in the league at 76.3%. The Rush were shorthanded 278 times and were unsuccessful at killing the penalties 66 times. With the struggle in special teams also came shorthanded goals. The Rush scored five shorthanded goals in the season, which was tied with the Wheeling Nailers, Utah Grizzlies, Norfolk Admirals, and Savannah Ghost Pirates for 22nd in the league. While they scored five shorthanded goals, they ended up giving up eight shorthanded goals, which was tied for 12th in the league with the Iowa Heartlanders, Kalamazoo Wings, Fort Wayne Komets, and Kansas City Mavericks. With how much the Rush struggled with special teams last season, it leaves a lot of space for them to grow in the 2023-24 season.

Improvements to Make in the 2023-24 Season

With the Rush missing the playoffs last season, that left the team with a lot of things to improve upon. Some of the things the Rush can improve upon in the 2023-24 season is scoring and shot accuracy, powerplay, penalty kill, and defense. As previously mentioned, the Rush really struggled to find the back of the net at times. But, with many of their shots going straight to the goalies stomach, it was almost certain the goalie would make the save. But, if they were to try to get more open by making one more pass or one less pass, they may be more successful with their shots and scoring goals. The team may also be shutout less as they were shutout four times last season but did not shutout any other teams. As for the powerplay, some improvements that could be made are to be more aggressive on the puck, finish their checks, and lay some hits. For the penalty kill, if they make sure they do not give opposing players too much space, do not get in the way of their own goaltender, and do not start to panic, there should be a lot of improvements on the penalty kill.

One other thing the team needs to improve upon is their play against teams in their division. Last season, the Rush played the Idaho Steelheads 14 times. Through those 14 games, the Rush went 4-9-1-0 against them. This caused the Rush to leave a lot of points on the table and really effected their spot in the standings.

What to Look Forward To

I think there are a lot of things to look forward to this season. The Rush brought in a lot of new guys, as well as a lot of young guys with speed. The young guys will be coming in looking to continue to fight for a roster spot. Meanwhile, the players returning will all be coming back with a chip on their shoulder, having missed the playoffs this last season. The returning players, who have a chip on their shoulder, and the young, fast players should create a competitive atmosphere to help show why the Rush is a respectable team in the ECHL and help them reach their overall goal.

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

In episode 8 of the Inside The Rink podcast, Matty and Smitty are joined by new co-host Conrad Jack. After the long hiatus, we get back to hockey with a PACKED episode!Matt Rempe & the Devils vs. Rangers Line BrawlCould the Vancouver Canucks squander a playoff opportunity? Have the Winnipeg Jets finally figured out their lines?Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella is a sound byte MACHINEOvechkin is on his way to 895, Who is next?McDavid joins elite company with 100 Assists in a seasonRyan Hartman was suspended 3 Games, was it worth 3 games??Can Auston Matthews hit 70 Goals this season?The Eastern Conference Wild Card race is heating up, who lands the two playoff berths?For all of your hockey news and more from the show, visit us at insidetherink.com and watch us on YouTube! How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
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Felicity Harding

Hello! I'm Felicity and I mainly cover the Rapid City Rush in the ECHL here at Inside the Rink. You can find me on Instagram and X/Twitter at @fharding05

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