RAPID CITY, SD – Brennan Saulnier provided the game-winner in the third period, and with the help of Mason Baptista and Mark Auk’s 3-point nights powered the Rapid City Rush to a 6-4 win on Friday night against Utah Grizzlies. The game served as the 13th home-opening night in Rush history, and the win improved the Rush’s record in home-opener’s to 9-4-0-0.
The Grizzlies, led by Diego Cuglietta’s pair of assists, jumped out to an early 2-0 lead roughly five minutes into the first period of the season. Cedric Pare potted his first professional goal off a rebound past Rush net-minder Adam Carlson that resulted from a three-on-one break into the Rush zone. Utah drew first blood at 3:23 of the opening frame (Cuglietta and Joe Wegwerth assisted). Wegwerth doubled the Grizzlies lead on the front-end of a double-minor power play, deflecting a shot past Carlson to make it a 2-0 lead at 5:15 of the first period (Cuglietta and Miles Gendron assisted). The Rush nearly broke the goal line of Utah net-minder Peyton Jones on multiple occasions, but the rookie, making his pro debut, kept the Rush off the board after 20 minutes and 14 shots faced.
The Rush escalated the tone of the game in a wild second period filled with shorthanded tallies and many penalties, but the Grizzlies maintained their lead after 40 minutes of play. The Rush struck first to open the five scoring entries in the frame. Just 2:27 into the action, Mason Baptista potted his first goal with the Rush, deflecting a Shawn Boutin blue line shot past Jones to get the Rush on the board, trailing 2-1 (Boutin and Tyler Coulter assisted).
Utah re-established their two-goal lead moments later in the midst of penalty-filled action on their third power play of the game. With 5:07 played in the second, Miles Gendron rifled a shot off the back bar past Carlson that extended Utah’s lead to 3-1 (Cedric Pare had the lone assist).
The next three goals exchanged between both teams all came while shorthanded. Cedric Montminy kickstarted a Rush comeback with his first of the season, blazing down the ice after causing a turnover. At 7:23, Montminy faked out a defender in the Utah zone and slipped a shot under Jones to cut the Rush deficit to 3-2 (the goal was unassisted). Just over two minutes later, Mark Auk forced a turnover on the Rush blue line and started a two-on-one shorthanded break with Avery Peterson. Peterson unleashed a wrister under the bar over Jones’ shoulder to square the game at 3-3 with 9:30 gone by in the second (Auk had the lone assist). Charlie Gerard, making his professional debut for the Grizzlies, broke the deadlock for Utah as the teams headed into the locker rooms. With 8:00 remaining, Gerard tucked a sharp angle shot along the ice and just by the outstretched leg of Carlson, giving Utah a 4-3 lead after two periods (the goal was unassisted).
The Rush took over total control in the third period and ultimately sealed the win. Mason Baptista hit pay-dirt for the second time, providing the Rush’s only power play goal of the contest. With 4:16 gone by in the final period, Baptista slammed a net-front rebound past Jones to square the game at 4-4 (Shawn Boutin and Tyler Coulter assisted).
Moments later, in a second round of four-on-four hockey, Brennan Saulnier gave the Rush their first lead of the game, and it proved to be the only one they needed. At 8:47 of the third, Mark Auk deflected a puck to Saulnier, who skated down the center lane of the Utah zone and fired a shot by Jones’ glove to vault the Rush to a 5-4 advantage (Auk had the lone helper). With time winding down in the final period, Shawn Boutin hit the final nail in the coffin with a cruise missile of a shot from the blueline with 1:29 left in the game. Boutin’s shot rang off the back bar and made it a 6-4 Rush lead, ultimately ending the game with that final score.
Making his first start for the Rush since April 5, 2019, Adam Carlson earned the win with 25 saves on 29 shots faced (1-0-0-0).
The Rush rematch the Grizzlies tomorrow night on December 12th. Saturday’s series finale against Utah is “Rapid City Thrillers Night”, sponsored by Vast Broadband, which sees the Rush pay homage to the Continental Basketball Association’s Rapid City Thrillers of the 1980’s and 1990’s. The team will wear specialty Thrillers-themed jerseys that will be auctioned off following the game tomorrow night.
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