The Laval Rocket season had not gotten off to the start the team had hoped, going 0-3-0 to start the year and struggling to put together a consistent effort over 60 minutes. Standing in their way of a first win on Canadian Thanksgiving were the Rockford IceHogs. It was the first meeting between a Montreal affiliate and Rockford since 2014.
Cayden Primeau got the start after Charlie Lindgren played on Saturday against Milwaukee, up against Collin Delia for the IceHogs. Also of note in the Rockford lineup was 2019 third-overall pick Kirby Dach, who was down in the AHL on a conditioning stint, adding a formidable piece for the Rocket to try to shut down.
Laval did not waste much time jumping into the afternoon contest, with each of their four lines swarming all over the Rockford zone, and multiple players piling up scoring chances on Delia. The IceHogs’ netminder stood tall, fighting off the Laval chances and giving his own team a chance to find their legs.
Even with the lopsided shot advantage in the first period, the Rocket again surrendered the opening goal, this time to Philip Holm. A quick set play off the draw led to a Rockford counterattack, with Jacob Nilsson carrying the puck into the Laval zone. Nilsson fed Holm in the slot and the defender wired a shot off the post and in for a 1-0 lead just seven minutes into the game.
The IceHogs nearly added another goal off the stick of Matthew Highmore, but Primeau came up with a big stop to deny him. The goaltender was called into action again as the game’s first penalty went to the Rocket, and he had to steer away a redirection and then deny a Kris Versteeg one-timer shortly after. The Rocket penalty-killers shut down the man advantage from there, with a Jake Evans short-handed chance killing off the final few moments.
The opening period ended with the hosts clinging on their one-goal lead, but it was clear that the Rocket would not be put away easily. They had nearly scored twice in the final few seconds, but superb saves from Delia denied them.
The Rocket’s top line of Alex Belzile, Ryan Poehling and Charles Hudon jumped out to a fast start in the second frame, forcing Delia to scramble for a save as Belzile whacked away for a loose puck in the opening minute. The Rocket looked like they had found their opening goal when Riley Barber wrapping a shot in, but the IceHogs had knocked the net off its moorings, negating the goal.
Some fancy moves around the net by Nikita Jevpalovs forced Philipp Kurashev into hooking him, giving the Rocket their first power play of the game. Ryan Poehling tied up his man on the draw and kicked the puck back to Xavier Ouellet at the point. Ouellet fed a pass to Belzile as he drove to the net uncontested, then neatly flicked a backhand shot past Delia’s pad and off a defender’s stick to tie the game. It was a play that took only seven seconds to pull off, and breathed even more energy into a Laval side that was starting to take over the game.
It took the Rocket seven seconds to score on their first power play of the game, quick puck movement off the draw allowed Alex Belzile to net his third goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/Vi4SlfUGaW— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 14, 2019
The Rocket made sure to make the most of their current momentum, this time by adding another goal to their second-period onslaught. Otto Leskinen fired off a shot that was blocked by a Rockford player, and Joe Cox swatted the puck into the slot for Lukas Vejdemo. The centreman barreled forward and lifted a backhand shot for his first goal of the year.
Joe Cox taps the puck back for Lukas Vejdemo who flings a backhand shot by Colin Delia for his first goal of the season. pic.twitter.com/qYqYS4nrZ8— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 14, 2019
The Rocket attack from all four lines continued following the goal, with each trio generating offensive time, and bringing a heavy physical presence any time the IceHogs attempted to carry the puck. By the end of the period, the Rocket had added 16 shots to their total, having fired 30 on Delia who was keeping his side in the game heading into the second intermission.
Even with a lead, the Rocket were not content to sit back as they looked to secure their first win of the year. The third period again saw Laval push the issue early and often in the Rockford zone. Things looked to get a bit shaky when Poehling was dinged for delay of game early in the period, sending Laval to their second penalty kill of the day. Luckily for Laval, they had to survive just the first 38 seconds before Adam Boqvist was whistled for hooking as Evans blew past him on a short-handed breakaway.
The ensuing four-on-four didn’t lead to an insurance goal despite a handful of solid looks, and the abbreviated man advantage yielded the same result, but it ate up a chunk of the clock and brought the Rocket a little closer to their first victory.
Leskinen sat a few minutes later for interference, giving the IceHogs another chance to make Laval pay for their struggles in converting their chances. The penalty kill held strong once again, and with the play returned to five-on-five, the Rocket finally found another goal to lock the game down for good.
Poehling won the draw, and Hudon kicked the pass to Leskinen at the point. The defenceman returned a pass to Hudon, who made no mistake with a blistering shot that made it a two-goal Laval lead.
Beautiful play here, Poehling wins the draw, and Otto Leskinen tees up a perfect pass for Charles Hudon for the final Rocket goal of the day. pic.twitter.com/TUuT2enF3D— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 15, 2019
Hudon’s goal was all the Rocket needed to see the game out for their first win of the year, and they did so in dominating fashion with 43 shots on net while allowing just 22 in return.
The Rocket won’t have long to enjoy the win. They’ll welcome the Providence Bruins to Place Bell on Wednesday night.
1. Philip Holm (1 Goal)
2. Otto Leskinen (2 Assists)
3. Ryan Poehling (2 Assists)