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Rocket Dig Deep, Eke Out Pair of Weekend Wins

Rocket Dig Deep, Eke Out Pair of Weekend Wins

LAVAL, QC — The Laval Rocket hosted the Rochester Americans and Utica Comets for a back-to-back set Friday night and Saturday afternoon (respectively). The Rocket narrowly defeated both opponents and kept their positioning in the tight North Division race to clinch a berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

The Rocket went into Friday’s match still looking to earn valuable points toward the postseason in the North Division — the only team waiting on technicalities to clinch a spot in the playoffs is Utica. Every other team is fighting to keep their postseason dreams alive in a tightly contested division. It’s crunch time, and every point counts when points percentage breaks the tie.

FRIDAY

The Rochester Americans were back at Place Bell for the second matchup between the two this week. Laval was victorious against Rochester on Wednesday. Friday night, the Rocket paid homage to Canadiens farm teams of yesteryear, donning sweaters designed to evoke memories of the ones those teams wore and showed replays in black and white.

In net for the Rocket was Kevin Poulin — Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen down at the other end for the Americans. Early on, their two teams seemed evenly matched, both playing chaotic hockey in front of opposing creases. The first half of the period was uneventful outside of big saves on both ends of the ice.

Just about twelve and a half minutes into the first period, everything changed. The Rocket took the first penalty of the game. The Americans’ ensuing power play was short-lived because almost exactly a minute later, they found themselves down two men for a bit of 4-on-3, followed by a good chunk of 5-on-3 hockey. That two-man advantage is where the Rocket opened the scoring when Danick Martel tucked a rebound in past Luukkonen with just under five minutes to play in the period. Twelve seconds after his teammate put them up by one on the scoreboard, Rocket forward Jean-Sébastien Dea found himself in the penalty box. The Americans were unsuccessful on the man advantage, and the Rocket took their lead down the tunnel.

By contrast, the second period was full of excitement. The Americans came out for the second period and played smart, exact hockey that broke through the Rocket’s defense at every opportunity. At the 03:49 mark, Sean Malone snuck a puck past Poulin to even the score out at one-all. Not to be outdone, the Rocket notched an early second-period goal of their own 11 seconds later. Cedric Paquette flipped the puck on the net; it bounced off a defender in front, changed direction, and slipped past Luukkonen’s blocker to regain the lead. Four minutes later, Linus Weissbach netted a rebound from a shot by Arttu Ruotsalainen to tie the game back up. Later in the period — at the 13:14 mark — Ruotsalainen set up a similar play to the Weissbach goal but, this time, knocked in his own rebound to give the Americans their first lead of the night.

The third period more resembled the first than it did the second. Tensions started flaring for the first time in the game, and there was some pushing and shoving after the whistles. The Rocket got another chance on the power play 14:29 into the third — the first penalty since the first period. Laval didn’t find the equalizer on that power play, but before the buzzer sounded to cap off a would-be Americans victory, Sami Niku found the back of the net. It took overtime to decide this one. The overtime period was tight, back-and-forth hockey that lasted the better part of four minutes. Three minutes and fifty-eight seconds into the extra frame, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard called game.

SATURDAY

Saturday afternoon, the second-place Rocket hosted the first-place Comets in a battle of the North Division giants. The Comets chased at least one point against the Rocket to cliched a coveted spot in the playoffs. Guarding the crease was Cayden Primeau for the home team and Akira Schmid for the visitors.

The Comets started strong. The Rocket had some push-back, but the first period was a high-event, high-octane scoring-fest that seemed to spell an early doom for the home team. The goals didn’t all come at the same time, but they came in rapid succession. Alexander Holtz opened the scoring with a sneaky one-timer at 07:23. Martel was sent off to the box twenty-five seconds after that goal, and Utica took its first stab at the power play. Thirty seconds into that man advantage, Ryan Schmelzer tipped the puck past Primeau to extend the lead to two. Just over a minute later, Nolan Foote clapped a cross-ice one-timer in behind the young Rocket backstop to bring the score up to 3-0 in favor of the Comets.

Just when all hope seemed lost for the Rocket, Joël Teasdale took advantage of a giveaway and deked the puck past Schmid to get the Rocket on the board just past the halfway point of the period (10:36). Two minutes later, Kevin Roy launched a one-timer into the back of the net off a faceoff to cut the lead down to one. Former Comet Nate Schnarr assisted on both Teasdale and Roy’s goals. The Rocket got one more goal in before the buzzer, thanks to Alex Belzile and some lucky ricochets.

All tied up at three apiece, the second period was slow, tedious, back and forth hockey compared to the first. The most action came from penalties, and their resulting power plays. At 06:59, the Comets were assessed a bench minor for too many men — served by Graeme Clarke. Paquette sat for two on a hooking minor at 11:21. Schnarr got into a tussle with former teammate Tyce Thompson, and they both served roughing minors at 14:39. Early into the final minute, Paquette took another minor — this time for high-sticking. That power play carried over into the third.

The Rocket started the third on the kill and successfully squashed all of the Comets’ efforts to regain the lead. When play returned to even strength, the pace slowed down to what felt like a crawl. The referees seemed to have the whistles permanently at the ready. Play stopped numerous times for icing, offsides, or one goalie or the other covering the puck after a save. After what felt like an eternity, Dea lit the lamp on a breakaway and forced everyone watching to realize that the period wasn’t even five minutes into playing time. One might assume that the Rocket took the potential momentum from Dea’s goal and ran with it, but that was not the case. They managed to take control of the possession game and hold onto the puck more, but they couldn’t buy an insurance goal. On the other end, Primeau was standing on his head to keep the Comets from adding an equalizer.

Laval was gifted an opportunity to extend the lead when Robbie Russo sat for cross-checking. Schmelzer was sent off for high-sticking shortly into that power play, and Laval shifted to the coveted two-man advantage. Unlike Friday night, they didn’t capitalize on that one. The Comets took their big 5-on-3 kill and looked to even the score back up. Utica pulled its goalie and set up in Laval’s defensive zone with time expiring. The puck came to Dea — fresh off the bench — and he made no mistake, launching it into the empty net from the edge of the neutral zone.

TAKEAWAYS

The Rocket are inching closer toward the postseason for the first time in the club’s young existence. They’re all but guaranteed to make the playoffs if they keep making the most of every game. Laval is not a heavy favorite to win the Calder Cup, though. They will have to dig deep and find more of what propelled them to success against the Comets Saturday night if they want to find success once the regular season ends. They also need to tighten down their discipline and take fewer penalties. Their penalty kill is solid, but the same cannot be said about the power play. They can’t rely on the man advantage to build momentum, so they have to find that boost elsewhere.

The biggest question surrounding the Rocket is which goalie they ride through the playoffs to give them the best chances. Poulin has the best numbers on the season as a whole, but when he’s having an off-night, things go downhill fast. Primeau is still young and makes mistakes early that put his team in danger of losing control of the game before establishing it. Both goalies have their pitfalls, but the Rocket will need consistency in the crease to succeed. Right now, it’s either goalie’s net.

UP NEXT

The Rocket are back in action Monday, April 11th at 7 pm EDT when they travel to CAA Arena to take on arguably their biggest rival, the Belleville Senators.

QUICK STATS

Here’s the quick breakdown of some key stats for the Laval Rocket:

  • Record: 34-23-3-2 (2nd in the North Division, 12th in the league)
  • Goal Leader: Jean-Sébastien Dea (22)
  • Points Leader: Rafaël Harvery-Pinard (46)
  • Goaltending Leader: Kevin Poulin (2.32 GAA, 0.923 SV%)

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 2021 season!

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

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