LAVAL, QC — The Laval Rocket took on the Belleville Senators in a back-to-back set Friday night and Saturday afternoon. The teams split the weekend series.
The Rocket were riding high on a moralizing victory over the Toronto Marlies Wednesday night as they set up to face another Canadian rival in the Belleville Senators. They got off to a solid start, establishing control of the game early in the first. Once the Senators got their legs back underneath them, they matched pace with the Rocket and set the tone for what the possession game was going to look like all night long — everybody’s favorite style of hockey: back-and-forth through three zones. The Rocket quickly found a boost of energy when they killed the game’s first penalty and opened the scoring five minutes later. Devonte Smith-Pelly netted his first as a Rocket to give the home team an early lead and shifted some of the momentum in favor of his own side. Before the period wound down, Chris Wilkie leveled the score out at one apiece, and they took a tie into the intermission.
The Rocket regrouped and doubled down on their game plan in the locker room. They came out through the next two periods and played an even-keeled, patient, and steady style that made the Senators work harder for less reward. Danick Martel tallied a short-handed goal in the second period, the only goal of the frame to extend the Rocket’s lead. In the third, Belleville tried its hand at speeding up the play, leaning into the back-and-forth that see-sawed possession into both teams’ ends. They also took a page directly from Laval’s playbook and ramped up the physicality alongside their speed. Pushing and shoving after every whistle made the first appearance of the night halfway through the third and only got worse after Jesse Ylönen potted an insurance goal. Louie Belpedio sealed the deal with an empty netter, and the game where the Rocket did everything right to neutralize the Senators came to an end less than a minute later.
The Rocket played a patient game while the Senators searched for momentum through most of 60 minutes. Both teams geared up to square off again Saturday to close out their weekends.
Belle façon de commencer notre séquence de 7 matchs à la maison 🏡
— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) February 26, 2022
The Rocket came out of the gates strong to close out the weekend. Tory Dello opened the scoring very quickly into the match. For the entirety of the first and second periods, Cayden Primeau was outstanding between the pipes. The Rocket held a 3-0 lead through the first half of the third period with a pair of goals from Smith-Pelly and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard. And that’s when the wheels fell off. Primeau, who spent most of the game standing on his head rather than his feet, let in a bouncing puck courtesy of Sam Reinhardt.
Tensions gradually rose throughout the first half of the game, and they came to a head in the third. Scraps followed whistles and both sides seemed to take offense to everything the other did. Amid the tangles of people and equipment, the Senators scored three more unanswered goals, the first from Roby Jarventie, followed very closely by a go-ahead goal from Michael Del Zotto. In the final minute, Ylönen took a boarding penalty, and Jarventie took advantage of the ensuing power play just five seconds in. Pulling the goalie yielded no results, and the solid showing Primeau put up through the first 50 minutes collapsed with the team around him.
For all of their hard work and outstanding team play, the last 10 minutes of the game was decidedly the worst 10 minutes of hockey the Rocket have played all season. They had all of the momentum, and the ice was tilted firmly in their favor. Still, the Senators battled back as they flipped the script on the Rocket, used their own system of agitation against them, and capitalized on the mistakes they made in frustration. The Rocket, who had solidly held control of the pace and momentum in the game, had no answer for the flurry of late-period goals and dropped the match to arguably their biggest rival of the last two seasons.
— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) February 26, 2022
The Rocket carried some positive momentum from a moralizing victory against the Toronto Marlies into Friday night. That carried them to victory in the first half of the back-to-back. The momentum they gained from the home win the night before wasn’t enough to propel them back to the winner’s circle on Saturday. Remember all of those issues we discussed after the Syracuse series? They managed to keep them under control for the better part of two hockey games, but when it rains, it pours. And the storm clouds opened as the Rocket sought to close out the weekend with a clean sweep all but assured.
It all boils down to this: if hockey teams actually hate one another, then the Rocket and the Senators are the Lex Luthor to the other’s Super Man. They’re perfect archenemies — they spent the entirety of the 2020-21 season playing in the Canadian Division, facing off against only four other teams as the Rocket bulldozed their way through the Senators on their way to claiming the top spot in the division without even so much as a glimmer of postseason hopes. At least as far as the Rocket are concerned, at the end of this year, the better part of two whole seasons will have been played against the Senators. The two clubs are on one another’s schedule 12 times this year alone.
Seeing each other as often as Belleville and Laval do is more than enough to not only foster an intense rivalry but is also the perfect condition for animosity to fester. Throughout the past two seasons, the games against each other have been intense, passionate, and frustrating. There is no way to predict who will come out victorious, and one team or the other will play either some of their best hockey or fold entirely under the pressure of the other. Last season, the Rocket dominated the Senators in every matchup — this season, it’s the Senators’ turn.
Splitting the weekend series in such a dramatic way is a good analogy for the dynamic between these two teams and the heated rivalry that is a year and a half in the making.
Here’s the quick breakdown of some notable stats from the Laval Rocket:
- Record: 23-16-3-0 (49 Points, 3rd in the North Division, 12th in the League)
- Points Leader: Rafaël Harvey-Pinard (24)
- Goals Leader: Jean-Sébastien Dea (15)
- Goaltending Leader: Kevin Poulin (2.53 GAA, 0.918 SV%)
The Rocket are back in action Monday, February 28, as they host the Cleveland Monsters at Place Bell. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 pm EST.
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