by Jim Holland Journal
Rapid City Journal
For the Rapid City Rush, Tuesday’s visit to the home of the Dallas Stars was a fresh glimpse of life at the top level of professional hockey.
The Rush took advantage of an extra day off following Sunday afternoon’s contest with the Allen Americans for a side trip to the American Airlines Center in Dallas, home of the National Hockey League’s Stars.
The Rush sat in on game-day skates for both the Stars and Vancouver Canucks, toured locker room and training facilities and met briefly with coaches and players from both teams.
“They couldn’t have been more cordial,” said Rush coach Joe Ferras.
Rapid City assistant coach Mark DeSantis set up the visit in January after making contact with Stars head coach Marc Crawford.
Once again proving the small-world, one-big-family aspect of the game, DeSantis and Crawford have a history that goes back more than two decades. Crawford coached DeSantis during two years of junior hockey with the Cornwall Royals of the Ontario Hockey League.
“It was awesome because I hadn’t seen him in so long — 21 years ago,” DeSantis said.
The pair hadn’t communicated for most of that time, but DeSantis took a chance on trying to contact his former coach by e-mail last year, as DeSantis was completing his first year behind the bench as assistant coach for the Rush.
“He’s been good about responding to my
e-mails for a guy that’s so high profile. With the busy schedule that he has, for him to e-mail me back right away is unbelievable,” DeSantis said.
So when the time came for the Rush to head to Texas for their January road trip, DeSantis decided to see if the schedules would coincide.
“I knew we were going to be a couple days in Allen. I looked at their (Stars) schedule to see if they were going to be in town, and it turns out they were,” he said.
Rush forward Derek LeBlanc reconnected with a pair of Vancouver players, defenseman Aaron Rome and goaltender Cory Schneider. The two were former teammates of LeBlanc’s during a stint last year with the Canucks’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.
“They didn’t have a lot of time to talk because it was their gameday as well,” LeBlanc said. “It was pretty much just checking up with each other and getting a quick chance to chat.
“It was a neat deal to see the NHL arena and see how they get ready for their games. It’s not a whole lot different than what we do.”
LeBlanc said he enjoyed touring the Stars’ facilities. Naturally, they are larger and better equipped than their CHL counterparts’, including more weight-training, massage and treatment rooms.
“The budgets are obviously a little bit different in the National Hockey League compared to the Central League, and that allows for more rooms like that,” he said. “It was an awesome experience to get to see how those guys prepare at that level of hockey.”
The Canucks have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL, riding a four-game winning streak to top the Northwest Division, Western Conference and the league with a 33-10-9 record and 75 points.
With Schneider in goal, the Canucks beat Dallas 4-1 that night.
The Rush have generated some heat of their own, with a six-game win streak following Wednesday night’s 4-3 win over Odessa.
“It was nice to be talking about both teams winning games, that’s for sure. It makes the conversation go a lot easier,” LeBlanc said.
DeSantis said the visit was a good break from the rigors of the road.
“It was good for everybody, Hopefully the guys took it all in, understood it and respected it. I know Joe and I did,” he said.