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Laval vs. Charlotte recap and highlights: Short-handed Rocket topple AHL’s top team

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A standout performance by Connor LaCouvee and a pair of Hunter Shinkaruk goals powered Laval to a win.

Club de Hockey Canadien

After a bitter loss in Belleville on Thursday night, the Laval Rocket returned home for the first of two games against the Charlotte Checkers this weekend, and got the homestand off on the right foot with a 4-2 win.

They were without their two regular goalies, lost Karl Alzner and Victor Mete to the Canadiens, and now they’d be missing both Noah Juulsen and Byron Froese, who were hurt against the Senators.

In net, Etienne Marcoux ceded his spot to ECHL call-up Connor LaCouvee, which makes some sense given the nature of the three-in-three weekend. Opposing him would be Alex Nedeljkovic for the Checkers.

With both Froese and Juulsen out of the lineup, the Rocket were in need of some strong showings by some of their other veterans, and after a two-goal game in Belleville, Michael McCarron seemed like the perfect candidate to overcome the odds.

Charlotte was kind enough to give Laval a perfect opportunity for an early lead. Josh Wesley drew blood with a high stick, sending the Rocket to a four-minute power play just 2:22 into the game. The Rocket managed only three shots on the man advantage, but as Wesley exited the box, Laval found the opening goal.

Xavier Ouellet drove through the neutral zone and gained the Charlotte offensive end with ease, and as he stumbled to the ice he fed a pass back to a trailing forward. Some slick passing from Daniel Audette to Alex Belzile and finally to Lukas Vejdemo resulted in the Swede’s fifth goal of the year.

Things got heavily physical from there, with Zack Stortini blasting David Sklenicka along the boards, and rookie Michael Pezzetta coming in to stand up for his teammate. A back-and-forth tilt sent both men to the box for five minutes, and set the tone for the rest of the period.

LaCouvee was solid in net, not giving up any chances to a dangerous Charlotte attack, and then the Rocket offence added some more insurance for their new goalie. Belzile circled the net before flinging the puck in front. It bounced off Audette and McCarron, with Audette finishing his second chance at a shot, giving Laval the 2-0 lead.

The physicality then claimed a victim on the Rocket. With Jake Evans skating up the boards with the puck, Patrick Brown caught him with a high hit, and the rookie was very slow to get to the bench. McCarron wasted no time getting on the ice and throwing Brown around to send a message to the Checkers.

Before the period was out, the Rocket tacked on one more goal for good measure, this time off the stick of Hunter Shinkaruk. The teams headed into the first intermission with Laval clearly having stunned Charlotte in the opening 20 minutes, leading 3-0.

Sklenicka kicked off another exciting period by exacting revenge on Stortini for his earlier hit on him. The Czech defender threw his hip into Stortini, launching him into the boards, and then he had to immediately fight Steven Lorentz. With all said and done, he was given two for boarding and five for fighting, while his opponent was hit with a misconduct for instigating.

While Laval was still doing well keeping their lead intact, a Cale Fleury slashing call sent them to the penalty kill, where Greg McKegg broke LaCouvee’s shutout bid. Dennis Robertson cut the lead to one late in the period, but Laval were still holding their own.

Before the second intermission arrived, the Rocket’s PTO goalie pulled off what has to be a save-of-the-year candidate. A puck fluttering in the air fell to a Checkers stick, and LaCouvee lunged across the crease and stole a sure goal with his glove to keep the lead intact.

After a slight struggle in the second frame, Laval was looking to lock things down in their own end to secure a much-needed two points.

The teams traded power plays, but the best chance on the Rocket’s power play went to the Checkers, with an odd-man rush testing LaCouvee again. Tthe young call-up stood tall, blocking the puck away.

Audette managed to break free from everyone after that, but he fired the shot high, not truly testing Nedeljkovic. The whole back-and-forth sequence was capped by Shinkaruk taking a poorly timed slashing penalty. With just five minutes left the Rocket would be counting on another stingy penalty kill.

The penalty-killers did their job, and when Shinkaruk stepped out of the box, he took a perfect feed from Sklenicka. He froze Nedeljkovic and roofed a gorgeous backhand goal that gave Laval much-needed insurance.

That’s how the game ended as well, despite Jake Bean ringing a shot off the post in the dying seconds. The Rocket earned a pair of points they needed after a disappointing loss in Belleville the previous night.

Laval and Charlotte will renew hostilities tomorrow at 3:00 PM to finish off a hectic week for the Rocket.

Final Score: Laval 4, Charlotte 2

Three Stars

1st: Hunter Shinkaruk (2 Goals, GWG)
2nd: Connor LaCouvee (Win, 22 Saves)
3rd: Daniel Audette (1 Goal, 1 Assist)