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2022 Calder Cup Playoffs

I’d Have A Donnybrook: Rocket Even Series

I’d Have A Donnybrook: Rocket Even Series

LAVAL, QC — The Eastern Conference Final is all tied up at 2-2 following an explosive Game 4 Friday night. The Laval Rocket hosted the Springfield Thunderbirds for the first game of a back-to-back set where this budding rivalry gave fans a memorable, thrilling game of playoff hockey. 

FIRST PERIOD

The Rocket dropped the first home game of the series thanks to phenomenal goaltending and outright domination from the Thunderbirds. They needed to learn from their mistakes and re-establish home ice in front of yet another sold-out crowd at Place Bell. The Thunderbirds needed to keep their collective feet on the pedal and build off that Game 3 win to deflate the Rocket and take a precious lead on the series. 

Springfield looked like it would do just that in the first half of the period. They were firing on all cylinders from the jump and tested Rocket goaltender Cayden Primeau almost immediately. The Thunderbirds took control of the game in the first minute of play and set to work dismantling the Rocket. For their part, the confident Rocket that fought their way through two rounds looked shaken by the loss Wednesday night. Nearly four minutes into the game, the Thunderbirds opened up the scoring with a quick goal in close from Mackenzie MacEachern. The Rocket struggled to control the neutral zone, and the Thunderbirds used that to their advantage, picking off the puck and relegating the home team to the backcheck. At the 07:26 mark, Primeau lost track of the puck in the goal mouth, and Dakota Joshua extended the visitors’ lead to two.

The T-birds outworked and overpowered the Rocket through the first half of the period, and Joel Hofer stood like a brick wall in the crease. The Rocket found their footing in the second half of the period. They took control back, lobbed shots at the opposing net, maintained zone time, and created chances in front of Hofer. Laval clawed its way back into the game and regained confidence. 

With two and a half minutes to go, Will Bitten took a tripping penalty, sending the Rocket to their first power play. Twelve seconds later, Steven Santini headed to the box and gave the Rocket a two-man advantage. Laval came close to scoring but rang it out on the crossbar. As the buzzer sounded, Jean-Sébastien Dea seemed to find the back of the net on a deflection, but would it stand?

Upon review, the goal was good — Dea scored with one-tenth of a second on the clock. The Rocket were on the board and buzzing when they headed down the tunnel for the first intermission. 

SECOND PERIOD

The Rocket started the period with a few seconds left of power-play time, but the Thunderbirds got off to another strong start and quickly killed it. Laval picked up where they left off at the end of the first — playing hard on the forecheck and pushing back against the defense that helped make Hofer’s crease impenetrable for the better part of the first frame. Two minutes and thirty-seven seconds into the second, Cédric Paquette netted an equalizer — the period’s only goal. 

That second goal was all the Rocket needed to regain complete control of the game. Their backcheck was more engaged, and they found control of the neutral zone to tighten up their transition game. After the two goals against — on each side —  the net minders stood up to every shot they faced. The speed of the game picked up with the Rocket matching pace with the Thunderbirds, and the signature physicality of the series was at an all-time high. The first period was riddled with extracurricular shoving post-whistles; the second was much the same. 

The ice leveled out, and both teams were evenly matched. The Rocket and Thunderbirds headed down the tunnels with a two-all tie and no love lost. 

THIRD PERIOD 

The Rocket dug deep in the opening minutes of the third period and came out of the gate swinging. They held a commanding 40-29 lead on the shot clock but couldn’t find a way to beat Hofer. Tempers seemed to calm down, and the shoving didn’t extend into the dead time between whistles. The third period didn’t add any goals to the scoreboard, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of reasons to watch the goalies. 

Primeau and Hofer spent the first three games of the series putting on a goaltending clinic. Game 4 was no different. No matter what was thrown at them, the kings of the crease defended their kingdoms with their lives. The third period’s focus was defense. It wasn’t until the latter half of the frame that the offense picked up. Both sides came close to taking the lead, but crossbars and backstops stifled those chances. Even without scoring, Springfield and Laval gave fans an exciting game of high-octane hockey. 

Regulation ended, still deadlocked at two. This one needed overtime to reach a decision, boys and girls. 

OVERTIME

The Rocket carried their momentum into the bonus frame, held onto possession, and pushed the pace. If tension subsided to end regulation, they reignited in extra time. The Rocket may not have started the game with an edge, but they spent 60 long minutes playing the long game — agitation. The overtime period was where they saw the fruits of their labor pay off. The tempers that have stayed on a constant simmer throughout the series were as close to boiling over as they’ve ever been. 

Officials decided to let the teams play and let infractions slide. The players took out their frustrations on one another. 

The Thunderbirds spent an extended period of time in the offensive zone and looked like they had the game on their sticks. Four minutes in, the Rocket took possession of the puck at the blue line and ended the game a few quick passes later, thanks to Rafaël Harvey-Pinard. But just because the game was over, that doesn’t mean the players were reading to put it to bed. 

THE DONNYBROOK

As the horn sounded to announce Harvey-Pinard’s goal, the Rocket swarmed him in a group hug in front of the door to the visitor’s tunnel. At the top of that group hug, there was a commotion. It wasn’t just any commotion — there was a scuffle. Thunderbirds players moved in on the celebrating Rocket, and the pushing and shoving that punctuated whistles showed up with the full weight of two teams behind it. 

The crowd surged. They were incensed — beer cans littered the ice as four officials worked to separate dozens of men from one another. As soon as the kerfuffle looked to die down, the two most active clumps of players shifted to reveal someone still in a death grip by the other team. The fracas only ended when officials could get to the door to usher the Thunderbirds down the tunnel like a band of border collies herding a flock of wayward sheep. Only then were the Rocket able to partake in the most beloved of victory traditions: goalie hugs.

In all of the chaos, Harvey-Pinard’s goal wasn’t announced until the players were leaving the ice.

A total of 99 penalty minutes came down as a result. Seven players earned a roughing minor and 10-minute misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct:

  • Tommy Cross
  • Dakota Joshua
  • Klim Kostin
  • Louie Belpedio
  • Alex Belzile
  • Danick Martel
  • Joël Teasdale

Goalies weren’t immune to the punishment — Hofer added a pair of penalties for spearing:

  • A five-minute spearing major
  • A game misconduct 

UP NEXT

The Rocket and Thunderbirds face off once again in Laval on Saturday evening to round out the weekend set. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 pm EDT.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2022 season!

    Deanna McFeron covers the Laval Rocket for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with her on Twitter @FPHRocket.

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