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 Rapid City Rush

2023-24: A Requiem for a Season That Was Almost There

April 24, 2024 - ECHL (ECHL)
Rapid City Rush News Release

The unwavering hum of the fluorescent lights overhead provides the cold soundtrack to the end of another season at The Monument.

Ends are never easy, but if there's one thing that is guaranteed, every year they are sudden and jolting halts that jar everyone from the goal scorer to the grinder.

The postseason wasn't in the cards for the Rapid City Rush this year. The team finished with 30 wins, split evenly across the home and road schedule. After a .500 record at the All-Star break, it seemed the ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs were within reach for the second time in three years, but between injuries and obstacles, Rapid City fell six points shy of making it to the postseason.

The most difficult stretch of hockey was a five-game losing streak following the All-Star break and an eight-game losing streak in January, offset only by back-to-back wins in Maine. In the skid that saw the team start 2-13 in the second half of the year, the Rush fell to Utah, Idaho, and Kansas City in 10 of those 13 games.

March was a month of new beginnings for the Rush, though. The team logged seven wins, the second-most of any individual month this season. With a new corps of college seniors turned pros, the Rush were not mathematically eliminated until April 6.


Alex Aleardi finished the season with 31 goals and 48 assists. All three major Rush ECHL scoring records fell this season. Aleardi tallied 79 points and 48 assists this season, giving him sole ownership of both the Rush single-season points and assists record in ECHL play. Jesse Schultz (77p, 43a) had owned both records since 2014-15, the team's first season in the league.

"It's fantastic. Anytime you try to put the work in and really try to shy up every day. When you can accomplish something, that feat, that's stood for so long it's an incredible accomplishment," said Aleardi.

Bennett led all ECHL rookies in goal-scoring with 35 goals this season. Bennett, a rookie forward from American International College, scored 35 goals this season, also breaking a Shultz record from 2014-15 (34).

Linemates at different points throughout the season, Aleardi assisted on 15 of Bennett's 35 goals this year.

"It was perfect. He had a heck of a year and he's a heck of a young talent. I'm excited to see what happens for him in the next few months and in the future," said Aleardi.


It's an unfortunate part of the game, but it seemed especially unfortunate for the Rush this season. Rapid City ended the year with six players sidelined on the injured reserve list (Chris Perna, Mason McCarty, T.J. Fergus, Logan Nelson, Charles Martin, and Brandon Yeamans). The Rush suffered a combined 251 man-games lost this season between all different injuries.

"Injuries definitely hurt us," said Head Coach Scott Burt. "You know, you don't make excuses but it can be a challenge to get guys in to replace those guys."

Charles Martin led all Rush defensemen in assists, and was ranked second in the league in rookie defenseman assists at the time of his injury. Lost in the turmoil of the season was Martin who was, at the time of his injury, ranked second in assists among ECHL rookie defensemen. Fergus with 14 assists on the blueline was also sidelined after only 36 games. Perna was plus-1 with two points when he was lost for the year on December 29. Those injuries are in addition to Jarrod Gourley who spent six weeks on the I.R. this season as well.

"Having five D for a month, injuries, and having guys go down that are important to your team are hard to replace in this league at times," said Aleardi.

"We were playing with two SPHL guys," said Burt. "They came in and did their job, and it's not that they're lesser players, but we didn't get them to a point that we could be at our best when those other guys went down."

While the Rush blueline sustained some serious blows, the forward corps was not without its damages as well. McCarty and his offensive skill only saw 14 games in a Rush uniform after he was acquired, and Yeamans's scrappiness was missed after he went down in late January.

The largest blow was Nelson's though, as he was knocked out of the lineup on March 16. He finished the year as the third-leading scorer for the Rush behind only Aleardi and Bennett.

Logan Nelson became just the sixth all-time Rush skater to log 200 games in a Rush uniform this year, logging the mark the same night he played in his 500th ECHL game. "It's not fun. It's hard to watch. You want to be out there, you don't want to be sitting in the stands," said Nelson.

He eclipsed 200 games for the Rush in his career this season to rank fourth in all-time Rush games played since 2008. He is also two points shy of 200 scored in a Rush uniform and would become only the third Rush player all-time to eclipse 200 points in the team's 16-year history.

"The last three years I've been put in a pretty good spot to be a catalyst for this team, and being productive is a bonus. The points come when they do," said Nelson.


It was Aleardi and Nelson who dominated the point scoring for the Rush this season, but it wasn't without help.

Of the top-five point scorers for the Rush, only Bennett was a rookie. Aleardi and Nelson have hit their 250-plus games for veteran status, but Brett Gravelle (190 games) and Keanu Yamamoto (143 games) finished fourth and fifth in team scoring.

Gravelle ended the season with 25 goals, his best showing since his ECHL rookie year where he scored 29 (27 with the Rush, two with Iowa). "I think just being healthy and having a good summer really helped me out," said Gravelle, who was injured off-and-on during the 2022-23 season. "I was fortunate to have a pretty good season, but not making the playoffs is tough. I thought there was more in the tank for us."

"It was good to go into the summer with a little confidence," said Yamamoto. "It's a long season, but it was good to end with something like that." He posted six points in the final two games for the Rush.

Strong showings for non-rookies bled onto the blueline as well this season with brothers Tyson and Kenton Helgesen patrolling for another year. The duo got to share ice time during April 13's season finale and the starting defensive pairing.

Tyson logged a team-high nine fights this year, completing his full complement of fights allotted. Kenton scrapped as well, but now has logged 242 professional games and eclipsed 100 professional points with a 10-assist year this season.

"It's not that I'm the toughest guy in the world, but I don't mind sticking up for my teammates at all," said Tyson. "It's been something I've been taught to do since I was a little kid."

Tyson Helgesen squares up with Connor Mylymok in a critical series against the Idaho Steelheads. "The year before ended kinda tough for me and having my brother here, that was a big pull for me," said Kenton, the older of the two. He joined the Rush this season right before Thanksgiving.

Tyson would have been the sixth Rush skater to play in all 72 games this season had he not been called up by the AHL's Tucson Roadrunners for a weekend. He found the most offensive success of his career since his final season in Spokane, with 5 goals and 14 assists for the Rush this season.

"I know they're not paying me to score goals, but anytime I can chip in in that way, it's appreciated in the room," said Tyson.

The future for the Helgesens, Gravelle, and Yamamoto, isn't as set as it may be for veterans or rookies. While Nelson and Aleardi both want to continue their careers in Rapid City, contracts for second and third-year players require more discussion.

"I'm at the later stage in my career, and I'm the guy that wants to take the summer to make a decision, but I do want to come back and I want to play 100 percent," said Kenton.

"72 games is a grind, and I know there are some guys who want to work out right away, but that's not me. I need to take about two weeks and decompress," said Yamamoto.


The Rush were fortunate to have a sampling of AHL-contracted players with the team this season as well. Mark Duarte, Will Riedell, Jarrod Gourley, Matt Radomsky, and Connor Murphy toed the line between the AHL and ECHL all season long. At season's end, Ilya Nikolaev also joined the squad after 29 AHL games this season.

"It's been special. The group that we have here in Rapid and Calgary have been nothing but great to me," said Duarte. "This game is a lot different than juniors. You're playing a lot of older people and a lot of bigger boys and the group we had out here helped a lot."

Mark Duarte scored his first professional goal in his first professional game on October 19 at Iowa. Duarte played 36 games in Rapid City, ending the season with 24 points (14g, 10a). He also spent 15 games with the Wranglers in Calgary.

Will Riedell just finished his second season of straddling the AHL/ECHL line. Last year, he spent 32 games with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda and 15 games with the Savannah Ghost Pirates. This season, Riedell logged 32 games with the Rush and 16 games with the Wranglers.

"I enjoyed my time up in Calgary and my time in Rapid City, they're both just really good organizations," said Riedell. "Coming down here I took on a little bit bigger role and wanted to show what I could do at the next level, so that was the biggest thing for me."

Gourley also did the up-and-down adventure last season between Utica and Adirondack. This year he saw action with Calgary and Rapid City as well.

Jarrod Gourley's OT winner in Iowa was one of six post-regulation victories for the Rush this year. "I mean the word 'rollercoaster' comes to mind for sure," said Gourley, who missed seven weeks in the final third of the season with an injury. "I just wanted to get back to my A-status and see where I could take things."

While there were many big moments this season, Gourley logged the first major highlight on October 20 of this season, scoring the game-tying and game-winning goal in overtime at Iowa.

"I've only played two years of pro and that's definitely one of the top highlights for me in professional hockey thus far," said Gourley.


For the first time in the 16-year history of the Rush, every goaltender to appear in a game this year was an ECHL rookie by games played. Connor Murphy, Matt Radomsky, Christian Propp all completed their first tastes of pro hockey while Jason Pawloski had not registered the 25 games necessary to be classified as a non-rookie.

Murphy is 4-4-2 with the Wranglers this season with 14 overall appearances. He has a sparkling .925 save percentage in American League play. With Rapid City, Murphy was also a gem. His 7-10-1 record marked him as the Rush goaltender with the second most wins while only having 18 appearances.

Matt Radomsky finished the season with 1342 saves, the most saves of any goaltender in the ECHL. Radomsky led all Rush goaltenders in wins with 16 this year, including a 3-2 win in the series finale. He logged his first professional shutout on February 2 against the Maine Mariners in a 36-save effort, and appeared in the most games of any Rapid City goaltender this year.

"I think it was really positive," said Propp, Radomsky's goaltending partner at season's end. "We're both guys that came out of school and obviously he signed an AHL contract, but to learn from a guy who's an established pro - I just thought it was a really positive relationship."

Propp, a collegiate-signing from Wilfrid Laurier, will remain an exciting talking point over the summer. He played nine of the last 10 games for the Rush, secured the longest-consecutive start streak for the team this season, and scored at least a standings point in every start at home this season.

Christian Propp finished his first year with the Rush at 5-0-1 at The Monument, never suffering a regulation loss at home. "I'm just grateful for the opportunity to have logged some games in this league is going to go a long way for myself and my development," said Propp.

With both Murphy and Radomsky contracted by the AHL's Calgary Wranglers, Propp is the only ECHL-contracted goaltender left on the roster.

"For me, it leaves me hungry to come in and not only earn a spot here but to come in and get this team in a playoff picture and do my part," said Propp. "I think our fans are deserving of seeing this team make the playoffs and going on a run."


Bennett was the leading rookie goal scorer in the entire ECHL with his 35 this season, and while he was arguably the biggest snub from the ECHL end-of-season awards, the first-year forward was at peace with the voter's decisions.

"I don't really feel snubbed because those other guys are great players," said Bennett.

While Bennett's contributions will be one of the headlines of the season, he was joined by a host of other rookie contributors in the dressing room.

Riley Ginnell scored his first professional goal on February 10 against Kansas City. Riley Ginnell logged his first pro goal this season after a whirlwind start to his pro career. Ginnell missed all of January and half of December on the IR before coming back and working into his pro game. However, the 6-4 forward finally scored his first goal on February 10 against Kansas City.

"Yeah, I'll never forget it. Scoring in front of the fans was just so awesome, and even though we didn't win the game, you know you never forget that first one," said Ginnell.

Part of the success of this season's rookie class was the leadership of Aleardi and Nelson. Aleardi was seated between both Bennett and Ginnell in the dressing room this season.

"He's an unbelievable guy, really funny," said Ginnell of Aleardi. "You know I'm sure he's probably tired of me 'cause I'm sure me and Bennett talked his ear off all year long."

The Rush also saw an influx of new faces after college hockey began to end in March. Jake Stella, Zach Taylor, and Parker Bowman all logged their first pro goals before the year ended, and helped the team stay in the playoff push into April.

"I'll never forget it, Yamamoto gave me a nice pass into the middle and I looked up and there were no defensemen in front of me," said Bowman recalling his first professional goal. "I couldn't have drawn it up any better myself."

Parker Bowman led all in-year, collegiate signees with four goals for the Rush this year. "It felt nice to put one in with a goalie in net," said Stella, who scored his first pro goal on an empty net on April 11. He would score again on a shorthanded setup from Brett Gravelle the next night. "I'm going to consider that one my first."

Over 35 percent of all Rush goals this season were scored by first-years.

"We all mixed really well," said Ginnell. "It wasn't a matter of how old you are or where you are, we all just kind of hung out and got along."


Head Coach Burt was pensive in the two days following the season. There's a point where all coaches decompress and realize the fate of the year is set in stone. Burt shared he was excited to get to spend time with his family this summer, but it didn't come without a sunken face and a subtle bit of emotion to close the year.

Burt is a family man. If you spend five minutes with him, you quickly understand how dedicated of a husband he is to his wife, Audrey, and the joy he gets from being a father to his daughter, Sophie.

But for Burt, the players are also part of his family.

"I'm going to enjoy being off the grind for a little bit," he said. "I get to get up and walk my dog and spend some time with my family 'cause they don't get a lot of me in the season, and that'll be nice."

Not every coach is the first to the arena. Burt is. He puts on the coffee and combs through film and is constantly on the phone with players, coaches, agents, and the front office. He is the quintessential coach who admitted challenges started before the hockey did.

"You know I was doing this by myself last year. I was recruiting players and then had to go through interviews on hiring an assistant coach, and then had to go through interviews on hiring an equipment manager and that was late in the season," said Burt. "I have to give credit to Peter though, he came in and learned and did what I asked of him and it's great to have someone to bounce ideas off of now."

Some of those ideas from Assistant Coach Peter Drikos helped the Rush to a seven-win March and another three wins in April. His knowledge of Canadian junior and collegiate hockey helped secure players like Zach Taylor, who was the OUA West Defenseman of the Year in Canada's USports league.

Drikos also helped guide the penalty kill from a bottom-three group in the league to finishing in the middle of the pack.

Burt though still understands that while stats are great, the team and its fans want wins.

"I take all the responsibility," said Burt. "It's my job and Peter's job to make sure we have this team ready to play and give them the tools to be successful. I like our structure and I like our group, but I do think I could have done some things differently and done some things sooner."

The Rush finished six points out of the playoffs this season, just a three-game difference from fourth-place Tulsa.

"It's so frustrating as coaches to be right there. It's three games. Last year, it was a game. It's right there, right? And we faced some challenges, but it is on me," said Burt.

Not lost on the third-year head coach was the team's home record that included an 0-7-1 stretch at The Monument to start the season, and an 11-game regulation losing streak at home from the All-Star break until late March.

"That really hurt us," said Burt.

What never wavered was Burt's leadership. From veterans to rookies, the locker room still backed their head coach, even after missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

"He's been great, and he's someone I'd go to war with over and over again," said Aleardi, one of the team's two captains.

"He's meant a lot to me in my career and helped me a lot in juniors and now he's an easy guy to play for here in Rapid," said Tyson Helgesen.

While the sentiments are nice for Burt, there are just that - nice, and nothing else.

"I don't know what the future looks like. There's change every year," said Burt. "I've got to and Peter's got to figure out if we have the right players for this team and you know the office has to determine if I'm the right coach for this team."

Inevitably, players depart for other opportunities and faces come and go. That's life in the minor leagues. Not everyone makes a mark, but Burt has.

He is the only coach in the Rush's ECHL history to log 30 or more wins in three straight seasons and is the second all-time winningest coach in Rush history with 99 career head coaching wins. Burt led the team to its second ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs appearance in 2021-22 and has only spent a combined eight days out of playoff contention in his three years at the helm.

"I'm always working and Peter is too," he said. "We're constantly looking for you know that little thing that can make our team better."


There's no other way to describe the start of the offseason coming in April instead of May or June. It's an awful feeling and the long offseason means a sickeningly long wait until the return of Rush hockey.

There were parts of this season that shone brightly, and watching three Rush league records fall in the same year is certainly a memory worth holding on to. However, injuries, losing streaks, and missed chances will also linger in the memory bank through the offseason.

Changes are fast approaching as they always do. The adage is E.C.H.L - ever-changing hockey league after all. What those changes are though are uncertain.

The Rush have won 30 games or more in three straight seasons for the first time in their ECHL history. Unfortunately, each of the last two years, more has been required to make it back to the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

More. Exactly what we will all be thirsting for until next October.

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