by Jim Holland
Rapid City Journal
An up-and-down Central Hockey League weekend ended on the up side for the Rapid City Rush.
The Rush had been winless against the Laredo Bucks in two previous games dating back to Rapid City’s inaugural 2008-2009 season, and a 5-2 loss at the Laredo Energy Center Friday night made it 0-for-3 against the perennial Berry Conference contenders.
But the Rush salvaged the long southern sojourn with a solid 4-1 win Saturday night, led by two goals by Ryan Menei and 26 saves by goaltender Danny Battochio.
Rapid City head coach Joe Ferras said the comeback started with the Rush getting their legs under them after the long road trip.
“You don’t want to make excuses, but I think we were a little tired (Friday) night. It’s a long, long way. Twenty-eight hours is a long time on a bus,” Ferras said.
The Rush fell behind 4-0 to the potent Bucks before coming to life with a pair of third-period goals.
“We didn’t match their intensity in the first 10 minutes and we got behind the eight-ball,” Ferras said.
Laredo made good use of the man-advantage, converting on three of four power-play chances, continuing Rapid City’s struggle on penalty-kill. The Rush were ranked 18th — last in the CHL — allowing opponents to score more than 25 percent of the time on power plays.
Rush goaltender Jimmy Spratt struggled in his first scheduled start in net, giving up five goals on 27 Laredo shots.
“I know there were a couple of those he’d like to have back, but we didn’t give him a lot of help either,” Ferras said.
On the plus side, the Rush held Laredo scoreless in four power-play chances Saturday night to improve their penalty-kill rating slightly, 16th in the CHL at 74.4 percent.
Ironically, Rapid City’s mercurial special teams play is the best in the league on the power-play side, scoring 31.4 percent of the time with a man advantage.
Both of Rapid City’s late goals in Friday’s loss came on power plays.
Ferras said the Rush refocused after Friday’s sluggishness.
“We went over a lot of film, kept it simple and played the type of game we need to play to be successful,” he said.
Early-season injuries and leaves of absence have left Rapid City short on the roster, dressing just 17 players, just one short of the normal bench of 18, for the weekend.
Currently out are defensemen Jay Birnie (30-day injured reserve, lower body injury) and Vladimir Hartinger (10-day IR, lower body injury), along with forward Erik Felde (10-day IR, unspecified injury).
Defenseman Jamie VanderVeeken and forward Luke Erickson are both on approved leaves.
Ferras said the Rush just have to work through the early-season adversity.
“We want to win every game you play, but it’s going to be a work in progress. We’re going to get better, but we’re going to stumble until we get things down and get back healthy,” he said.
Now the Rush turn their attention to Turner Conference-leader Colorado Eagles, who will host Rapid City at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo., on Wednesday night.
The Eagles have been on a tear as of late, winning seven in a row since an opening-night loss to Arizona.
Two of the win string included victories over the Rush on Oct. 22 and Oct. 23.
Menei, leading the Rush in goal-scoring (five) after finding the back of the net twice on Saturday night, hopes to build some momentum for Rapid City’s third of 12 games against conference rival Colorado.
“Hopefully I can help us out with one or two more (goals) to get a win on Wednesday night,” Menei said.
Notes: Defenseman Andrew Smale was credited with assists on both of Menei’s goals on Saturday night. Smale now leads Rush blue-liners in helpers with five.
Also, a scoring recheck gave Rapid City’s first goal on Friday to Derek LeBlanc. Scott Kalinchuk was originally credited with the goal.