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‘Deja vu’: New-look Rocket have a familiar ending in their season opener

Two one-goal leads vanished, and a late goal sealed their fate.

Shanna Martin

A season full of excitement started off fittingly for the Laval Rocket. A goal 23 seconds after the opening face off scored by their leading scorer a year ago. Alex Belzile scored the opening goal four times for the Rocket last year, but that wasn’t the deja vu he was referring to after the game.

Despite having leads of 1-0 and 2-1, the Rocket led for just over 11 minutes of game time. That was before Cleveland’s Trey Fix-Wolansky put a backhand shot from the slot past Charlie Lindgren with just 1:40 left in the third period to cement the 3-2 loss.

“There were games last year where we deserved to win, and lost and it’s a little bit of a deja vu,” said Belzile. The Rocket were 12-19-5 when they outshot the opponent, like they did on Friday night and they were 9-7-7 in games that were tied after two periods.

“We absolutely need to come out and get [the win on Saturday],” he said. “I know it’s the beginning of the season but for me we absolutely have to win to avoid that deja vu again.”

“Maybe [it was deja vu] in the result, but not with the same people involved,” said Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard. “It was not an extraordinary game.”

The Rocket have heightened expectations this season with a solid group of veterans and prospects. But they aren’t feeling any additional pressure in the room.

“I don’t think there’s more pressure on us,” Belzile said. “If we play well, we’ll all be under the spotlight. When teams win, more people will watch them. We all have something to play for.”

Charles Hudon was among the players cheered the loudest in the Rocket pre-game introductions joining Ryan Poehling and the Rocket leadership group.

In his return to the AHL, he played on a line with Jake Evans and Belzile, and scored a power play goal to give the team a 2-1 lead.

“My first instinct was to shoot it but right before I got it I saw their winger was high, and there was a path to get it to him,” Belzile said about his one-touch pass to Hudon. “I knew if I put it nice for him, he’d finish it. I’m happy for him. The situation that he’s in, it’s a goal that will do him some good.”

The two players have some history together — but it has been a while. The two with Jake Evans formed a solid partnership in their first game together.

“It’s been six years, I think, in Hamilton that I played with [Hudon] so I know how he plays but they’re both guys who think the game well so it’s easy to play with them,” Belzile said.

“The third period was my best period,” said Hudon. “The first and second periods I was elsewhere. I need to work on the little details. There were a lot of nerves before the game.”

“Offensively he had good flashes but we know he can do that. The reality is that Charles needs to be good for 200 feet,” Bouchard said. “There were coverage issues here and there, but it’s the first game for a lot of players. It’s a long season. Nobody had a great game today [...] Everything was a little slow.”

“As a coach you want everyone to be perfect,” Bouchard said. “Tonight we made some mistakes where we paid heavily and we made some mistakes that didn’t cost us. If you look at Cleveland, they made mistakes also. When we play them later in the year the game will be a lot cleaner.”

Quick Hits

On how Bouchard will manage his goaltenders: “The AHL does the work for us. A person who wants to sit down and make a big plan for his goalies with the number of games we play, with weekends with two games in less than 24 hours... The two goalies will both play.”

Cayden Primeau will start on Saturday.

Bouchard on Josh Brook, whose pinch in the third period led to Cleveland’s second goal: “He has good qualities, but plays like that are a little bit why he’s here. He’s a defenceman and we don’t want to take away his creative aspects, but an offensive defenceman in the pro game has to have unbelievable qualities. A great shot, great hands, great vision, and then you can get away with being average defensively. Josh is a rookie, we’re giving him a lot of responsibility. There will be mistakes but the goal isn’t to put him on his heels. The goal is to get him better for our team but also to help his career.”

The Rocket play the Cleveland Monsters in the second half of their back-to-back games at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday at Place Bell.