As the dim lights came up following the National Anthem at the Denver Coliseum on Saturday night, the packed house witnessed a true hockey rivalry in the making.

Gabe Gauthier

Courtesy of the Denver Cutthroats

Skating up the ice and cloaked all in black, a winged “R” on the crest across their chest, the Rapid City Rush looked every bit the part of a villain. Despite having played here one other time, tonight was really the Denver birth of a Rush rivalry that will go on as long as both teams continue to play each other.

Denver and Rapid City have squared off five times already – three of which were one goal contests – and have another 11 ahead of them still this season. Rapid City came out strong, looking to build on a shootout victory the night before in South Dakota, but ultimately would head to the hotel disappointed.

The Denver Cutthroats made a game of it in front of a loud 4,387 fans at the Hatchery, winning 4-3 in epic fashion in the duel after a scoreless overtime frame.

A.J. Gale, a name most Fish fans are familiar with by now, played the role of the hero, tallying the game winning shot as he beat Rush netminder Neil Conway five-hole after faking a wrist shot.

“That’s kind of my only move,” laughed Gale, who has 23 points in 15 games so far. “Either that or I shoot. But it was a good shootout on both sides and [Kent] Patterson stood on his head for us there.”

Gale had to finish off a tie after Rush forward Damian Surma beat Fish tender Kent Patterson with a deke-to-toe drag that he put in top shelf. The move showed flashes of what makes minor league hockey great.

“That one goal was amazing, that Surma scored,” said Gale of the move.

But the bonus hockey, the second played in back-to-back nights but with nearly 400 miles between them, was the result of a third period meltdown that isn’t uncommon for the Denver Cutthroats.

Rapid City put in two unanswered points, the last coming with fifty-six seconds remaining in the contest. The puck went through the crease and Patterson made a last ditch effort, diving to stop the puck. A well placed shot by Jarrett Konkle – from nearly the goal line – ricocheted off of Patterson’s dome and into the twine, tying the game before the clock could exhale.

“It just goes to show, you throw anything on net, anything can go in. I just got to keep calm, keep making my saves,” said Patterson, a Colorado Avalanche prospect. ” You got to keep a short-term memory, thats the way I always play. You can’t dwell on goals past and you got to prepare for what’s coming ahead.”

Normally a source of concern for some keepers, the shootout is a chance for Patterson to really shine.

“I love shootouts,” said Patterson. “I enjoy them very much. It’s something I missed when I played college hockey.”

Despite giving up the game tying goal in the waning seconds, Patterson was able to make some big stops at the end, allowing just one point to the two his teammates buried.

Head Coach Derek Armstrong acknowledged the mistakes his team made to give up the lead in the game, but he credits them to a young team that is still learning adversity.

“We have six defensemen, five are rookies. We’re going to make mistakes. That’s just the way things happen. You’ve got to be patient as a coach,” said Armstrong. “The swings are so drastic sometimes, it’s crazy. But it’s exciting.”

Forward Gabe Gauthier continued to find his groove with his latest team, adding a helping hand to two different goals. He has 13 points in just 11 games including ten points in his last eight contests.

“Derek Armstrong’s kind of brought that confidence back that I used to have when I was playing college and the first few years of pro,” said Gauthier. “I’m staying positive and knowing that, as long as we get wins, that’s the main thing but I’m also focusing on the little things I can do to help the team win.”

The Fish and Rush are at it again tomorrow night at the Coliseum. Kieran Millan will be back between the pipes and looking for yet another home win as Denver looks to work it’s way up the CHL standings whilst also building momentum.

What do you think? How do you feel about the win?