LAVAL, QC — The Laval Rocket continued a long homestand over the weekend with a back-to-back against the Abbotsford Canucks. Both teams came out of the set with a win.
The Rocket were looking to bounce back from a harrowing defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Monsters and hoped that the return of forward Brandon Gignac would help propel them to victory.
The Rocket came out of the gates strong Friday night – they had control over the game almost from the jump. They scored the first goal – courtesy of Shawn St. Amant – and held the edge on possession time and shots. If it seemed like they dominated the Canucks through the opening frame, that’s because they did. However, the Rocket started to show signs of that dominance fading away early into the second period. The Rocket weren’t playing sloppy hockey, but they gave the Canucks every opportunity to unravel whatever momentum and domination they’d spun for themselves.
The Canucks scored three goals in the second period – Sheldon Rempal, John Stevens, and Devante Stephens lit the lamp. But the second period was fraught with pent-up frustration and hatred toward the other team. There weren’t very many penalties that came up during the game, but the common theme was that neither team could do anything without facing the ire or the backlash of the other. Any time play stopped in or around Laval’s crease, Danick Martel or Louie Belpedio apparently had marching orders to protect Kevin Poulin at all costs. And that’s what they did. If there was a skirmish after a whistle, you could bet that Martel or Belpedio was right in the middle of it.
Sheldon Dries added an empty-net insurance goal for Abbotsford late in the third after holding a regrouped Rocket squad at bay for the better part of 15 minutes. Gignac scored on a short-handed breakaway shortly afterward, but there was nothing else that the Rocket could do – time was up. They took an emotional loss down the tunnel to reset and prepare to meet up with the Canucks for the second time in less than 24 hours.
Saturday afternoon started a lot like Friday night: Rocket domination. This time, they kept that up and didn’t let their cohesive play slip away. Thanks to Kevin Roy, the Rocket opened the scoring again but didn’t sit back and play comfortably with the lead. This time, they kept pressing and held the Canucks to just two shots in the first period. The visitors never got any real chances to set anything up – Laval’s defense was solid in front of Poulin (who was very interested in redeeming himself from the loss the night before). Canucks goaltender Michael DiPietro was busy on the other end of the ice – he turned away all but one shot out of 17 that the Rocket launched on him in the opening frame.
The Canucks and Rocket left the ice at the end of the period wearing the same chips on their shoulders as they carried through Friday’s game – the rage against one another that was a thread throughout the previous match already spilled over into Saturday afternoon. In the second period, all of that just got worse as it came to a head. There weren’t any goals scored in the second period. It’s hard to score goals when all you’re doing is looking for a fight. Both sides were limited to just seven shots in the middle frame, spending all their time bouncing back and forth between the two offensive zones and finding any reason they could to push and shove one another after a whistle. After early roughing penalties in the first to both teams, the second period erupted into an actual fight between Alex Kannok-Leipert and – you guessed it – Martel. There was one last set of coincidental roughing minors to close out the sandwich stanza on an emotional and frustrating note for both sides—every player on the ice needed to come back out with clearer heads and get back to work.
The third period didn’t change much. It was the third period of an emotionally charged game between two teams that apparently couldn’t stand one another. The Rocket failed to convert on a power play early and set to work, making the rest of the game count. Late into the third, former Rocket Noah Juulsen tangled up with Tory Dello, and both sat for two on the last roughing minors of the game. Shortly afterward, Jesse Ylonen knocked one past DiPietro, followed by Jean-Sebastien Dea two minutes later with the empty netter. Poulin stopped all 15 shots that the Canucks managed to send at him, and Dea earned a point on all three Rocket goals.
The Rocket know what they need to do to adjust when they play poorly. They need to harness the emotions they play with all game, every game, and use them to plug the holes they need to to keep the ship right side up. They attempt to do it in-game, but if that fails, there’s always the next one.
The Rocket is still on the hunt for the playoffs. They’re in contention as it stands, but they’ve never seen the postseason in their five-year history. They can’t afford to take their foot off the gas now. Will they make it far in the playoffs? Who knows, there is a sample size of exactly zero playoff minutes to give us an idea. Laval is a team that plays playoff-style hockey, however.
It doesn’t matter what style of hockey they play once they make it there. What matters is whether they can take the passion that fuels them and use it as a weapon against teams that have even higher-powered offense and higher-end goaltending. If they can’t learn how to do that playing hockey in the regular season, then their greatest strength will be negated because it’s also the easiest way to undo them.
Here’s the quick breakdown of some key stats for the Laval Rocket:
- Record: 25-18-3-0 (53 pts., 3rd in the North Division, 12th in the league)
- Points Leader: Jean-Sebastien Dea (26)
- Goals Leader: Jean-Sebastien Dea (16)
- Goaltending Leader: Kevin Poulin (2.25 GAA, 0.925 SV%)
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