MONTRÉAL, QC – The Laval Rocket opened their season Friday with a back-to-back set against the Belleville Senators. The return of the Rocket kicked off play for the Canadian teams in the American Hockey League’s 2020-21 season.
The Rocket, whose season start was postponed due to scheduling issues, took to the Bell Centre ice for the first time in nearly a year on Friday to play the first game between two Canadian teams this season. The Rocket faced off against the Senators Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, earning themselves a 5-1 win in both games.
The Rocket held an opening ceremony to mark the first home game of the season. Of course, they are playing at the Bell Centre in Montreal instead of at Place Bell in Laval due to Quebec’s regulations regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The opening ceremony included a beloved tradition – player introductions. This season, they carried a lot of significance.
The coaching and training staff, along with the non-dressed players on the roster, were introduced from the bench. A video looking back on the time that elapsed since the last Rocket game served as a transition and a reminder of everything that has transpired since last season was halted. The lights dimmed, save a spotlight at center ice that illuminated the most recognizable logo in hockey – the red, white, and blue CH of the Montreal Canadiens. The moment is especially poignant when you consider the team’s namesake, Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, is enshrined in the rafters of the building the Rocket call home this year. They wear his number nine on their sleeves, and the prospects dream of the day they play with that CH on their chest.
The Rocket came out of the gates strong and ready to play. They pushed the pace and tested Belleville early with intense pressure on the forecheck and maintained that control with their strong puck possession. Captain Xavier Ouellet capitalized on the team’s strong play and scored the game’s first goal before 10 minutes were in the books. Throughout the first period, the Rocket maintained that strategy and choked the Senators with their speed and heavy checking.
The Rocket closed the period with a 1-0 lead over Belleville. The Laval squad looked cohesive from the get-go, and the on-ice communication from the team was evident as the team seemed to be firing on all cylinders.
The second period saw the Senators push back just enough to even up the score with an unassisted marker from Logan Shaw in the first minute. The Rocket responded by doubling down on the pressure and hemming them into their zone for long stretches. Following a 5-on-3 power play for Belleville that saw the momentum start to budge in the visitors’ direction, Laval took off on two great rushes that stopped that tide from turning. Once they regained control of the game, the Rocket dominated on the forecheck, and Joseph Blandisi found the net to regain the lead for the home team. But Blandisi wasn’t finished. He made his way onto the scoresheet one more time with another goal to extend the Rocket’s lead.
The Laval team’s chemistry from the very first shift was on full display in the second period. They headed to the dressing room for the second intermission with a very deserved 3-1 lead.
Not to be outdone by Belleville, Lukas Vejdemo came into the third period ready to strike. He followed through on a smart play in the offensive zone with an opening minute goal of his own. With a growing lead to protect, the Rocket refused to let up. That pressure they had been laying on the Senators? They tripled down on it through all three zones, not allowing themselves to be hemmed into their defensive zone for too long. Belleville kept the pace with Laval and did their best to disrupt plays through the neutral zone. Joël Teasdale capped off the night with an unassisted goal for good measure, and the Rocket closed out the game the same as they started – in control.
The final buzzer sounded on the third period, and the Rocket celebrated their first win – 5-1 over a team they dominated from the onset.
- Goaltender Cayden Primeau stood tall in the crease to earn his first win of the season. He remained calm and collected in high-pressure situations, such as the 5-on-3 power play for the Senators in the second period.
- The delay in scheduling for the Canadian Division seems to have been a blessing for the Laval boys – they appear to have used their time to train wisely and develop chemistry within the team.
- The new kids on the block have transitioned into the AHL seamlessly: Jesse Ylönen played his first game in North America and looked to be right at home; Teasdale’s first game as a Rocket earned him a goal; Corey Schueneman showed fans a glimpse of why Head Coach Joël Bouchard was singing his praises prior to the puck dropping.
— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) February 13, 2021
Coach Bouchard announced a couple of lineup changes before the second game in as many days for his club. Ryan Poehling suffered a minor injury in Friday’s game and was replaced by Brandon Baddock. Laurent Dauphin slid over from the wing to center that line. Primeau also got the night off, backing up Michael McNiven instead.
The Senators opened the game with more jump and drive than on Friday. The Rocket responded in kind, but the visitors managed to take control for the better part of the first half of the period, outshooting the Rocket and testing McNiven early. McNiven, however, looked just as comfortable as Primeau did in the crease. As the period went on, the Rocket pushed back even harder and managed to regain the control they exerted on Friday, swinging the momentum back to their favor, and Dauphin netted the first goal of the game in the final three minutes. The Senators capitalized on a burst of speed of their own, and Parker Kelly found the equalizer in the last minute of the frame.
The two teams headed off to their respective locker rooms tied at 1-1.
Back to start the second, the Rocket found themselves on the power play in the first minute. Yannick Veilleux took advantage of that and yanked the lead back from the Senators. Laval settled back into their game plan and continued to push the pace and control the momentum early in the second. Belleville hung in there with them, forcing them back into their zone when they could, and searched for more chances. In the second half of the period, the Rocket tightened up their forecheck and were rewarded with Veilluex’s second goal of the game. Shortly after, Vejdemo found the back of the net. In response, Laval’s Otto Leskinen and Belleville’s Alex Formenton mixed it up behind McNiven when Formenton took exception to the hit Leskinen laid on him. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard capped off the period with his first AHL goal.
The Rocket racked up four goals in the second period, despite the Senators’ pushback to head into the intermission holding a 5-1 lead.
When the puck dropped on the third, Belleville seemed to have found another strategy for the game – get chippy. The Rocket responded with some chippiness of their own, and a kerfuffle broke out behind McNiven. Play continued the same way it had through the first two periods, and the third ended with no new changes to the score.
The Rocket left the ice with another 5-1 victory over the Senators and their second win of the season.
- A Primeau/ McNiven tandem seems to be the answer to the goaltending woes that plagued the Rocket last season, although it’s too early to tell.
- Baddock brings a lot of grit to the team, replacing some of what was lost in the offseason.
Une autre belle victoire contre Belleville.
— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) February 13, 2021
The Rocket and the Senators meet up again on Tuesday, February 16 (7 pm EST) at the Bell Centre.
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