1/30/2014 9:06:00 AM Sundogs 5, Rapid City 1 Sundogs rout Rush in front of boisterous Kids' Day crowd
Fans were cheering from warmups to the final whistle as the Sundogs hosted the Rapid City Rush in a morning matchup before a sold-out Timís Toyota Center in the first Sundogs Kids Day. The Sundogs thrived on the crowd, winning 5-1.
Photo courtesy Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Arizona players celebrate their first goal of the morning during the Sundogs' 5-1 win over first-place Rapid City.
Photo courtesy Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
The Sundogs are 1-4-1 against the Rush this season, although three of those losses came by one goal. Rapid City lost on the road for only the fourth time in 17 games Wednesday.
Arizona has compiled an 11-3-2 record in its past 16 games since it went on a seven-game slide from Nov. 29 through Dec. 13.
Thousands of elementary and junior high students, primarily from Prescott Valley and Prescott, attended Wednesday's game.
The Sundogs players taped several light-hearted public service messages for the students that were played on the big screen at the arena throughout the game. The messages focused primarily on the importance of teamwork and stopping bullying in schools.
"It's been a long time since we've played in front of a crowd like that. And with that kind of energy, you just kind of feel it in your body."
- Sundogs leading scorer Paul McIlveen
PRESCOTT VALLEY - How sweet it is in January for the Arizona Sundogs, who after myriad struggles are back at .500 for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign began in late October.
Before a vivacious capacity crowd of 5,218 on the franchise's inaugural Kids' Day Wednesday morning, the Sundogs cruised past the Central Hockey League-leading Rapid City Rush, 5-1, at Tim's Toyota Center.
Arizona, which has suffered with home attendance this season, hadn't had a sellout in five years.
"It's always nice playing in front of a full building," Sundogs coach Kevin Colley said afterward. "It doesn't matter the age or gender. They were loud and they gave us a lot of support out there. They gave us that high energy that we were looking for against the top team in the league."
The Sundogs, who are now healthy and benefiting from improved depth after some roster changes, have won three in a row and again maneuvered into eighth place in the 10-team CHL. More importantly, they look like a playoff team with two months left in the season.
Arizona hasn't been at .500 since Oct. 20, when it was 1-1-0.
The club, which is 8-0-2 in its past 10 games, evened its record at 18-18-3 (39 points) by beating Rapid City (27-11-0, 54 points) for the first time in six meetings this winter.
And the hosts did it without the services of high-scoring forward Brandon Coccimiglio, who was placed on the 14-day injured reserve before the game.
Kevin Baker scored two goals, bringing his team-best total to 16, and added an assist in leading the Sundogs to the convincing victory.
"We've been starting to gel as a team, and we were using that momentum coming into this game," Baker said. "But we're trying to use it for every game."
Arizona lit the lamp twice on the power play Wednesday, finishing 2-for-5 on those opportunities. The Sundogs have now tallied a man-advantage goal in 12 of their last 13 games, pushing them into fifth place in the league in that all-important category.
Paul McIlveen, the hometown club's leading scorer this season, also contributed with a goal and two assists. He has now scored a goal in each of his last five games and fed off the young crowd's boisterous cheers.
"It's been a long time since we've played in front of a crowd like that," McIlveen said. "And with that kind of energy, you just kind of feel it in your body. It's definitely a nice change, and I hope we can do more of it."
However, it's the Sundogs' stingy defense on the blue line and goalie Andrew Engelage's phenomenal play between the pipes that have sustained Arizona on its impressive current run.
Engelage netted 27 saves and improved his record to 16-8-2.
Arizona killed two big penalties in the second period that helped the Sundogs keep the Rush at bay.
"We've started playing a better brand of hockey in front of me," Engelage said. "I'm maybe seeing the puck a little better, getting some bounces here and there. But a lot of our success is kind of how we've bought into our systems, really, and cleaned up some things, which has led to our improvement."
Tied 1-1 at the first intermission, the Sundogs scored three goals within the first 6-1/2 minutes of the second period.
Baker put the hosts ahead 2-1 only nine seconds into the frame with a top-shelf blast on assists from Michael Trebish, who finished with two helpers on the day, and Jordan Clendenning.
"That just kept the momentum for us," Colley said of Baker's goal.
About a minute later, McIlveen stole the puck and fed Alex Tuckerman on the breakaway for a 3-1 edge. McIlveen followed on the power play five minutes later with his 15th goal of the season on assists from Baker and Bryan Cameron for the 4-1 advantage.
Early in the third period, defenseman Matt McCready rocketed a shot from near the blue line past Rush goalie Keaton Hartigan for the 5-1 edge that stood.
Engelage played staunchly throughout, deflecting away tough shot after tough shot, and continues to prove his worth to the Sundogs. The Rush were 0-for-5 on the power play Wednesday.
"He's been our backbone for the last three or four weeks of being a key component to our success," Colley said of Engelage. "He's worked his butt off."
Arizona snagged a 1-0 lead on the power play thanks to a 5-on-3 advantage some 12-1/2 minutes into the first period when Baker lined one in from the left side on assists from David Rutherford and captain Jason Morgan.
Rapid City tied it at 1-1 five minutes later after Sean Erickson rifled a puck that bounded off the end boards, came back to Engelage and rolled down his left side and into the back of the net.
But that was all for the Rush. The Sundogs shut down Jesse Schultz (13 goals, 44 assists for 57 points) and Konrad Reeder (25-30=55), currently the league's third- and fifth-highest scorers.
Meanwhile, Rapid City played its 10th consecutive game without the CHL's top-ranked goalie, Tim Boron (19-5-0, 2.35 goals against average, .923 save percentage), who went on injured reserve Jan. 11. Rush coach Joe Ferras said he hopes Boron, who was activated from IR Wednesday, returns for Friday's game.
"It's obviously tough, but it's a great opportunity for Keaton," Ferras said. "He's played very well for us. This is no fault of his (Wednesday). We got outplayed, outworked, and give them a ton of credit."
Hartigan, a rookie who made 25 stops Wednesday, has played admirably in Boron's place, going 8-6-0 overall and 5-5-0 since Jan. 4.
The Sundogs continue their three-game series against Rapid City at 7:05 p.m. this Friday and Saturday.