With the NHL season off and running, the American Hockey League’s wasn’t far behind. The Laval Rocket opened up their season at Place Bell last night against their North Division rivals, the Cleveland Monsters.
While Joël Bouchard’s squad showed flashes of great play last year, a hefty dose of injuries eventually curbed their playoff hopes, and they limped to the finish line to end the season.
There was plenty of optimism this off-season as the Montreal Canadiens restocked the Rocket with proven AHL vets in Phil Varone and Riley Barber, while also adding Cayden Primeau, Josh Brook and Ryan Poehling to the mix, then shuffling in a dose of veterans like Charles Hudon and Matthew Peca. In short, the Rocket were primed for liftoff, and a debut at home had the spotlight firmly on them all.
Liftoff came on the opening shift of the game for the Rocket. The top line of Hudon, Jake Evans, and Alex Belzile did the damage early as a loose puck in the Cleveland end found its way to Belzile’s stick, and he found a small gap to chip the puck past Matiss Kivlenieks to give Laval an early lead.
Then the Rocket gave the Monsters back-to-back chances to even the score up. Karl Alzner went off for roughing first, and the aggressive Rocket penalty kill held them at bay without much issue. The penalty-killers had to come right back out after a delay-of-game call on Charlie Lindgren. Again the high pressure from the Rocket kept the Monsters from being able to mount an attack.
A bit of a lull marked the next few minutes as neither side put together anything dangerous, but the Monsters struck in the next few minutes to tie the game up. Andrew Peeke worked in from the point, and with David Sklenicka occupied in front of the net, no one picked up Calvin Thurkauf at the side as he easily finished Peeke’s pass for a goal.
A hooking call on Adam Clendening sent Laval to their first power play of the game. Some dangerous looks courtesy of Barber amounted to nothing as the penalty expired.
As the play returned to five-on-five, Hudon collected a blocked shot and took off leading a three-on-one rush, but his centring pass was blocked, and the follow up chance was swallowed by the Cleveland netminder.
While the Rocket were controlling play, a late tripping penalty on Nikita Jevpalovs threatened to undo what was a strong opening period for the Rocket. However a great play from Belzile led to him sending a hailmary pass to Evans for a short-handed breakaway. If not for a quick flick of the pads by Kivlenieks it could very well have been a 2-1 score heading into the intermission, instead of tied at one goal each.
With a few moments left in Jevpalovs penalty the Rocket had to make sure they didn’t start the second period on the wrong foot, and they most certainly did not. The penalty ended and turned into a long shift for the Evans line in the Monsters’ zone, but they couldn’t find a second goal.
He wasn’t overly busy in the first period, but Lindgren needed to be sharp in the second, first turning away a Nathan Gerbe breakaway and then swallowing up any pucks that made their way through to him as Cleveland had several chances in succession.
Laval climbed back in control and nearly broke the deadlock when Jevpalovs took a feed from behind the Monsters’ net and rifled a shot, but Kivlenieks slid across to take away a sure goal from the Latvian.
The Monsters answered by getting the next power play as Brook was called for taking down Gerbe, despite the diminutive forward seeming to initiate the tripping motion with a dangerous play of his own. The aggressive penalty kill did its job once again, preventing the Monsters from finding any sort of rhythm and keeping the score level.
The Rocket were given a power play of their own with Gabriel Carlsson being sent off for interference, and despite a strong showing they could not find a breakthrough on the man advantage once again. Much like the first period, the Rocket also had to kill off a last-minute penalty, this time with Dale Weise sitting for holding, and a big block by Maxim Lamarche ensured that the two teams would remain tied heading into the third period.
The Rocket penalty kill took care of the fifth Cleveland power play without much issue again, and with Weise out of the box he was sprung on a breakaway, but couldn’t beat the goalie blocker side.
The speed of Peca led to a tripping call against Clendening to hand Laval their third power play of the game. The chemistry between Poehling and Hudon hasn’t fully clicked yet, but on the man advantage it wasn’t hard to see that they’re well on their way to forming a dangerous duo. Hudon nearly set up a tap in as Poehling pinched in from the half-wall, and Hudon nearly blistered one in with a heavy one-timer from the circle. While they failed to convert, the Rocket wouldn’t have to wait long for their next chance as Gerbe went off for slashing.
This time they struck gold, with Xavier Ouellet cycling the puck to Belzile on the wall. From there, Belzile picked out Hudon at the faceoff circle and he made no mistake, blasting the one-time shot home for a 2-1 lead.
I think Charles Hudon was pumped about that power play goal.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 5, 2019
Rocket lead 2-1! pic.twitter.com/up4X8Y9djd
The lead was short-lived as the Monsters stormed back down the ice. With Brook out of position, Clendening knotted the game up once more as Ouellet tried his best to cover two opponents.
After tying the game, Trey Fix-Wolansky used Alzner as a screen to get his backhand shot by Lindgren with under two minutes to play, giving the Monsters their first lead.
A strong rush with the net empty by Hudon saw his shot trickle along the goal line but not over it as the time ran out in a 3-2 loss on opening night.
There’s no time to rest as these two teams will square off at 3:00 PM tomorrow at Place Bell. Cayden Primeau will make his first professional start for the Rocket.
1. Alex Belzile (1 Goal, 1 Assist)
2. Adam Clendening (1 Goal)
3. Charles Hudon (1 Goal)