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Rocket weekend recap: Kerby Rychel helps earn a split to start road trip

A thin Rocket side started off their three game weekend with a loss, then an overtime comeback made possible by the newest addition.

Club de hockey Canadien, Inc.

For the Laval Rocket, the NHL trade deadline benefited them greatly, giving them a fresh pair of players in a lineup desperately in need of some help. Kerby Rychel and Rinat Valiev stepped into top-line and top-pairing roles almost immediately as the Rocket were set to face the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Syracuse Crunch, and Rochester Americans on three consecutive days.

Friday: Rocket vs. Bridgeport, 4-2 L

It was a home debut for both Valiev and Rychel as the Habs’ and New York Islanders’ affiliates met on the same night as their parent clubs played in Brooklyn. With Charlie Lindgren on recall, Michael McNiven got the start in net, while the Sound Tigers opted for former Olympic folk hero Kristers Gudlevskis.

The Rocket would strike first in this contest, with the newly acquired duo of Rychel and Valiev combining for a power-play marker a little over nine minutes into the opening period. Valiev put the puck on net from the top of the circle, and Rychel was right on the spot to swipe at the puck and get it by a sprawling Gudlevskis for his first in a Rocket uniform.

It was a relatively quiet first period otherwise, with the Rocket being forced to kill a pair of penalties late in the period to keep their lead intact through 20 minutes. Of note was that Daniel Audette left the game in the opening few minutes, and would not return.

The second period belonged to the Sound Tigers, with Stephen Gionta tying the game just 75 seconds in. It was a spot of terrible luck for Eric Gelinas who was defending his net when Gionta’s shot hit him and deflected past McNiven to tie the game up.

Then with Niki Petti sitting for a pair of penalties, the Sound Tigers power play capitalized with under five minutes remaining as Travis St. Denis struck with the man advantage. The power play came around with Petti taking exception to Connor Jones throwing a massive hit on Stefan Leblanc. The Laval forward slammed Jones to the ice and repeatedly cross checked him. In the ensuing scrum, Antoine Waked slammed Kellen Jones to the ice before handling him with ease once the gloves came off.

Adam Cracknell did his best to make a game out of it after St. Denis’ goal, managing to grab his 21st goal of the year with under a minute remaining in the second period to tie the game up. Chris Terry got a shot on net, and as he’s done many times this year, Cracknell swatted the rebound home to knot the game up.

That would be it for the Rocket offence however, as Kane Lafranchise scored with about seven-and-a-half minutes to play to make it 3-2, and then an empty-net goal sealed the Rocket’s fate in their only home game of the weekend.

Three Stars

1. Andre Benoit (2 Assists)

2. Travis St. Denis (1 Goal)

3. Michael McNiven (33 Saves)

Saturday: Rocket @ Syracuse, 5-4 OTW

After a hard-fought effort the previous night at home, the Rocket were on the road to clash with their divisional rivals, the Syracuse Crunch. Laval was down top-pairing defender Rinat Valiev who had been recalled to Montreal, while also missing Daniel Audette and David Broll due to injuries in the previous game. Former IceCaps fan favourite Eddie Pasquale got the start for Syracuse while Zach Fucale was between the pipes for Laval.

It was a fast and furious start to the game for the two teams, with two goals coming 30 seconds apart in the opening five minutes. Chris Terry opened the scoring with his 23rd goal of the year, with Michael McCarron and Jordan Boucher grabbing the assists on the play. McCarron crashed the net on a rebound chance, and as his shot went towards Pasquale, Terry got his stick on it, redirecting it just enough to get it by the Crunch netminder.

The lead didn’t last long as a pair of former Habs prospects in Michael Bournival and Gabriel Dumont combined to score a short-handed goal just 34 seconds later, tying the game up. Erik Condra gave the Crunch the lead four minutes later, when he linked up with Jonne Tammela for his eighth goal of the season.

The Crunch doubled their advantage early in the second period as well, with Dennis Yan grabbing a power-play goal while Kerby Rychel sat for tripping. Laval stopped the bleeding momentarily on a power play of their own, thanks in part to Jordan Boucher continuing his strong play as of late. With Carter Verhaeghe sitting for a slash, a vaunted Rocket man advantage took the ice looking to cut into a Crunch lead, and Boucher cashed in with his ninth goal of the year.

Antoine Waked sprung Boucher between two defenders on the power play, and the rookie forward deked around Pasquale and finished with a gorgeous backhand to make it a one-goal game with a little over eight minutes gone. Much like the prior period, the joy didn’t last all that long as Mat Bodie capitalized on the Rocket’s lack of discipline with a power-play goal of his own, making it a 4-2 game.

From there the Rocket took over, despite being heavily outshot over the course of two periods. Laval reeled off three consecutive goals in regulation and overtime to steal two points from the Crunch.

Antoine Waked got the comeback started just 12 seconds into the third period as he tallied his fifth goal of the season. Tom Parisi sent a pass up the right boards, which found a streaking Waked who broke into the offensive zone and let a wrist shot fly. The shot found it’s way past Pasquale and got the Rocket right back into the contest in the opening seconds of the third period.

After a spirited tilt between the always willing Jeremy Grégoire and Dominik Masin, the Rocket did everything in their power to try to find an equalizing goal. As the officials let the teams play without much interruption, the Rocket finally were rewarded for their perseverance.

A bouncing puck in the Crunch defensive zone found its way to Chris Terry who batted at it, knocking it down, but failing to get the shot off. The newly acquired Kerby Rychel was all over the loose puck, sucking it up and spitting a shot past Pasquale to tie the game with just under five minutes remaining.

The Crunch marched right back into the offensive zone, and forced Zachary Fucale into a number of saves as the clock ticked down. The Rocket secured at least a point, due in large part to the play of Fucale in net, who faced an absolute onslaught in net, at both even strength and on the power play.

In overtime, after facing down a number of fantastic Syracuse chances, the Rocket found the overtime winner. Willie Corrin got a shot on net, which Ben Thomas tried to corral. Grégoire pounced on the unaware Thomas, swiping the puck off his stick, and into the back of the net for his ninth goal of the year to win it.

The Rocket have one last game on their road trip, a 3:05 PM showdown in Rocheter against the Americans, who sit third in the North Division with 71 points.

Three Stars

1. Jeremy Grégoire (1 Goal)

2. Gabriel Dumont (1 Goal)

3. Dennis Yan (1 Goal, 1 Assist)