The Steelheads have three games left on their season-long eight game road trip, and they’ll play them in the Black Hills for their final visit this season to Rushmore Plaza Civic Center and the Rapid City Rush. The Steelheads have taken four of the first five games of this trip following Saturday’s comeback win over the Missouri Mavericks. The Rush sit at the bottom of the Mountain Division standings but have won six of their last seven and just finished taking two of three on home ice from the South Carolina Stingrays.
The strong stretch for Rapid City also included back-to-back wins over the Allen Americans, as goaltender Adam Morrison has served as the bedrock between the pipes. The former Philadelphia Flyers draft pick made 42 saves against the Stingrays on Monday night for his fifth win in his last six outings, giving up 15 goals in that span. Morrison was the ECHL’s Goaltender of the Week for the week of February 13th.
Rush captain Ryan Walters enters the weekend with seven goals and 15 points in his last 13 games to maintain his better than point-per-game pace this season. Josh MacDonald had served as Walters’ wing-man for much of the season, but he was dealt to the Quad City Mallards on February 6th. Since then Mark Cooper has picked up some of that slack, with 36 points in 41 games for the rookie out of Bowling Green. Cooper had two goals and an assist on Monday night.
Michael Young remains the prime weapon on the blue line for the Rush, his goal on Monday giving him three goals and seven points in the last eight games. Young has 32 points and a plus-5 rating for the Rush in 55 games this year.
The Steelheads are getting contributions from everyone during their trip, helping them improve their hold on a playoff spot to eight points. Brian Nugent came up big for Idaho on Saturday in Missouri, scoring two goals and adding an assist to help erase a three-goal deficit. Nugent has four goals and six points in the Steelheads last seven games.
The Idaho power play was potent against the Mavericks, going 4-for-7 across the two games. Anthony Luciani had one of the power play tallies, giving him six goals and ten points in the past ten games. Will Merchant also scored a power play goal, giving him 11 to rank second among ECHL rookies.
Kellan Lain continued his strong play with a goal and an assist on Saturday. He has scored six goals and 13 points in his last 14 games, a run separated by a one-month absence due to injury.
Idaho’s 5-4 win over the Mavericks was their sixth in the last eight games overall, coming back from a 4-1 deficit for their largest comeback win this season. Idaho is 4-3-0 this year against Rapid City.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
Jefferson Dahl has been among Idaho’s leading scorers since the first week of the season, but he was in the midst of his longest goal-scoring drought of the year heading into Saturday night with a nine-game slump. That slump is no more, as Dahl found a puck in the low slot for a power play goal, and the eventual game-winning goal, against the Mavericks. Dahl also earned an assist, as he had the first redirect on a double-deflection eventually credited to Brian Nugent. Dahl is once again getting himself to the dirty areas of the ice and getting results from it. He has five points in his last five games, and three goals and six points in seven games against the Rush.
RUSH TO WATCH
Rookie Hunter Fejes, who spent two months with AHL Tuscon, has been back in Rapid City since February 3rd, totaling seven goals and 19 points in his last 12 ECHL games, including a four-point performance on Monday. That four-point night also included a breakaway goal, as Fejes turned an even foot-race at the red line into a clear break by the time he had reached the blue. Fejes has 30 points in 31 ECHL games this year and has a skill set that is perfect for a Rush attack that benefits from opponents’ neutral zone miscues.KEY MATCHUP
Rapid City goaltender Adam Morrison faced a barrage on Monday night but was able to fight it off long enough for the Rush to establish a lead. While the Steelheads will have to solve Morrison inside the Rapid City zone, they should be able to handle the rest of the Rush in getting there. Six of Rapid City’s seven defensemen are over six-feet tall, with three of them six-foot-three. There are several Rush blue-liners who are well-equipped to contain the Steelheads along the boards in the defensive zone and in front of the net, but speed is not a major benefit of the Rapid City defense. The Steelheads’ transition game was controlled in Friday’s game in Missouri but made the proper adjustments for Saturday. It will be interesting to see how the Rush handle Anthony Luciani or Will Merchant using their speed wide, or Joe Basaraba and Bryce Van Brabant using their size to turn the corner off the wing. At the same time, a high-zone turnover can be an immediate break the other way for Hunter Fejes and Ryan Walters, both of whom like to take their chances and fly the zone early.