LAVAL, QC – The Laval Rocket were back in action Friday and Saturday against the Springfield Thunderbirds and the Hartford Wolf Pack. They split the exciting weekend set.
The Rocket roster has been cannibalized by the Montreal Canadiens due mainly to the return of the National Hockey League taxi squad and injuries in the big club. Both Rocket goaltenders and eight skaters (six forwards, two defensemen) are with Montreal. Laval is leaning heavily on replacements from the Trois-Rivieres Lions in the ECHL to keep playing.
This weekend, the Rocket hit the road and stopped in Springfield on Friday to face off against the Thunderbirds for the first time this season. The Rocket went into the game on the heels of a victory against Syracuse, while the Thunderbirds sought redemption following a loss to Toronto earlier in the week. The Thunderbirds took an early two-goal lead thanks to goals by Keean Washkurak and MacKenzie MacEachern. They carried that lead into the first intermission. In the second period, the Rocket regained some ground on a goal from Justin Ducharme, but the home team added another tally to stay ahead by two, courtesy of Sam Anas. The third period was all Laval, and the visitors notched a pair of goals from Alexandre Fortin and Tobie Paquette-Bisson and held on to force overtime. Less than a minute into bonus hockey, Jean-Sebastien Dea sniped one past Colten Ellis, and the Rocket came up victorious.
The Rocket met the Thunderbirds head-on, and the game was about as evenly matched as they come. Ellis was outstanding in the Springfield net despite the loss, stopping 31 of 35 shots Laval launched at him.
Une belle remontée couronnée d'une victoire en prolongation👌
— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) January 15, 2022
The Rocket packed up and rolled out of Massachusetts and into Connecticut to take on the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday night. Both teams were on the tail-end of back-to-back sets. The game started with a moment of silence in honor of Teddy Balkind, a high school player from New Caanan who passed away due to an on-ice accident on January 6.
Rocket Goalie Kevin Poulin suited up for his second game in as many nights, while former Rocket goaltender Keith Kinkaid started his first game with the Wolf Pack since being reassigned from the New York Rangers. Kinkaid stopped all 31 of the Rocket’s shots to earn himself a shutout. Austin Rueschhoff, Lauri Pajuniemi, and Patrick Khodorenko all scored in the win.
It was a closer game than the box score might suggest. Two of the goals – Khodorenko’s and Rueschhoff’s second – came courtesy of an empty Laval net. The Rocket had plenty of opportunities to capitalize on good scoring chances – including four thwarted power plays – and could not solve the Kinkaid puzzle. Once again, both teams were evenly matched, and Saturday’s game was decided on phenomenal goaltending, and a strong backcheck from the home team.
— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) January 16, 2022
The Rocket return home on Wednesday night to take on the Utica Comets, having dropped both meetings with the Comets this season. Chase De Leo leads the Comets in points with 27 (6G, 21A) and Akira Schmid (1.60 GAA, 0.944 SV%) is Utica’s best goalie, but the Rocket have also had trouble with Nico Daws in the net and know too well that Joe Gambardella likes to sneak goals past their netminders.
The Rocket’s focus needs to be on managing the pace of the game against the Comets. Their strategy of wearing down opponents and capitalizing on their mistakes hasn’t served them well in the previous matchups with Utica this season. With so many roster mainstays out of the lineup, Laval’s best chance is to strike as many times as possible and tighten up the backchecking to keep Utica at bay.
Here’s the quick breakdown of some notable stats from the Laval Rocket:
- Record: 14-11-2-0 (4th in the Atlantic Division, 16th in the league)
- Points leader: Jean-Sebastien Dea (14)
- Goals leader: Jean-Sebastien Dea (10)
- Goaltending leader: Kevin Poulin (2.31 GAA, 0.927 SV%)
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