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Rocket @ Thunderbirds recap & highlights: Michael McNiven, Xavier Ouellet stand tall in overtime win

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The young netminder and veteran defender were crucial pieces in helping the Rocket earn a big win on the road.

Club de Hockey Canadien

The Laval Rocket are sniffing for a playoff spot, and rolled into Monday night’s showdown in Springfield having earned five out of six points in the previous week. They were still without Michael McCarron and Noah Juulsen, as well as starting goalie Charlie Lindgren. Michael McNiven got the start in net for Joël Bouchard, and opposite him was fellow young goaltender Samuel Montembault for the Thunderbirds.

Power-play goals were the early trend in this game, with the Thunderbirds gaining the first man advantage thanks to an Antoine Waked interference penalty. Tomas Jurco converted less than a minute into the power play for Springfield. But in a recent trend in Rocket games, that Springfield lead did not last long, with the Rocket generating a power-play goal of their own.

David Schlemko dropped a pass off to a charging Cale Fleury, who in turn pump-faked a shot and found an open lane. He then rifled a wrist shot past Montembault to knot the game up with less than seven minutes gone in the opening period.

Both sides settled in for the remainder of the period, mirroring each other step for step as the minutes ticked away. The Rocket saw their next power play fail to generate much momentum, and were forced to play without Alex Belzile thanks to a puck off the face in the process.

Springfield earned another power-play chance late in the period when Alexandre Alain clipped a Thunderbirds player with an errant stick, but they washed out their advantage when Paul Thompson was called for interference. His actions after the play drew the ire of the officials, earning an extra two minutes in penalties, and handing Laval a power play to start the second period after a short 4-on-4 period.

The Rocket power play was, in short, a mess to start, and before it was over Maxim Lamarche interfered with Bobby Farnham behind McNiven’s net, ending the Laval man advantage just 1:38 in. As both teams tentatively tried to find a breakthrough, the Rocket served one up on a golden platter. Antoine Waked was called for high-sticking, and less than 30 seconds later on the penalty kill Byron Froese was called for a trip.

It took just 18 seconds for the Thunderbirds to work the puck around the zone and allow Thompson to bat home a goal for a 2-1 Springfield lead.

With 1:42 left to kill on Froese’s penalty, Brett Lernout then took another, sending the Thunderbirds back to another 5-on-3. This time the Rocket penalty killers gave up nothing to the Thunderbirds, and as Froese exited the box he found himself on a breakaway, but lifted his backhand over Montembault’s net. Even Lernout managed to create a great chance coming out of the box, blasting a shot off the Springfield netminder after his penalty expired.

The Rocket took their massive penalty kill and used it to seize momentum for the rest of the period, piling up a ton of big chances against Montembault. With under three minutes left they were rewarded for their offensive push, thanks to Dryden Hunt’s stick and some poor timing on the Thunderbirds’ part. Nikita Jevpalovs broke into the zone and put a shot in the general area of the net, and Hunt put his stick down to block the shot. Fortunately for the Rocket, the shot bounced off the stick and ended up in the Springfield net, tying the game once again.

Laval’s momentum wouldn’t stop as the final period started. With Riley Stillman in the box for interference, the Rocket power play struck quickly. Belzile, back after some time with the trainer, worked the puck along the blue line and fired a shot on net, which was blocked into the air by a defender. As the puck dropped behind Montembault, Froese got a stick on it, scoring his 13th goal of the year and giving his side a lead.

Following their goal, Laval was content to sit back and force the Thunderbirds’ attack to the outside and keep the pressure off McNiven in net. For the majority of the period that’s exactly what they did, and the netminder was stopping everything thrown his way.

With just over five minutes remaining, Springfield found the tying goal, with Hunt tipping home a shot from Harry Zolniercyzk to tie the game at three.

Neither side could find a breakthrough before the horn signaled the end of regulation, so for the second straight game the Rocket headed to overtime.

Daniel Audette nearly ended things early. He took a pass behind the net and curled around the offensive zone, firing a shot that trickled just inches wide of the net.

The Rocket found a massive bit of luck to end the game, as a Springfield clearing attempt hit the linesman and stayed in the zone. Waked capped a strong game by leaving the puck for Xavier Ouellet, who wrapped around the Thunderbirds’ net and banked a shot in off of Montembault’s stick for the game-winning goal in the extra period as Laval won 4-3.

The Rocket now head through the snow to Pennsylvania for a weekend showdown with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the Hershey Bears on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Three Stars

1. Xavier Ouellet (1 Goal)

2. Tomas Jurco (1 Goal, 1 Assist)

3. Byron Froese (1 Goal)