Rocket 2, Wolf Pack 1 (SO)
Coming into Friday night’s showdown with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Laval Rocket were riding high after a slow start to the season. Finishing the month of October on a two-game winning streak, including a victory over the Wolf Pack that handed Hartford their first loss in regulation this season. That win featured a trio of top end performances from Charlie Lindgren, Charles Hudon and Michael McCarron, all of whom played major roles in the win.
The Rocket needed a similar game on Friday as the team was without Riley Barber again, and also lost Phil Varone in Wednesday night’s win due to am upper-body injury. Cayden Primeau took over for Lindgren in net while Antoine Waked drew in for the injured Varone. After seeing Igor Shesterkin for their earlier meetings, the Rocket faced Adam Huska who was between the pipes for the Wolf Pack.
The first meetings between these two clubs were slower paced, defensive affairs that were extremely even in terms of shots. In the opening minutes of the first period on Friday the Rocket came out and smothered the Wolf Pack in the offensive zone. Any time a puck came out in a battle, the Rocket were all over it as they piled up the shots but were not able to fire one past Huska. Gustav Olofsson nearly had multiple goals, with his deft re-direction forcing the Hartford goalie into a superb shoulder save in close.
The Rocket attack finally paid off as it was Antoine Waked, making his season debut, who continued a strong opening period with his first goal of the year. Matthew Peca worked off the wall, and threw a pass towards the net, and Waked got just enough of the puck to direct it by Huska and put the Rocket in the lead.
Antoine Waked drives the net, and tips home a pass from Matthew Peca.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 2, 2019
1-0 Rocket. pic.twitter.com/znMKT0gRAJ
Things took a turn towards a physical sideshow after Waked’s goal, starting with McCarron attempting to goad Mason Geertsen into a penalty after the Wolf Pack defender tripped him to the ice. As McCarron got up Geertsen landed several cross-checks to try and bait the Rocket forward into a fight, which McCarron ignored and skated to the bench. Geertsen did make an impact, landing a huge, albeit late hit on Waked that landed him in the box for two minutes.
Not long after that, Alex Belzile landed a massive hit on Joey Keane who responded by spearing Belzile. Belzile took the spear about as well as expected, throwing off his gloves and hurling Keane to the ice, and earning himself an extra two minute penalty, despite being the one who was speared. The Rocket penalty kill swept aside the Hartford power play and went into the intermission with their one-goal lead intact.
That lead was gone less than a minute into the second period, Joey Keane loaded up a big shot, and with Matt Beleskey blocking the vision of Cayden Primeau the shot found the back of the net. Neither side took advantage from there, with the game taking on a more methodical pace, and scoring chances being at a premium. The Rocket almost found a shorthanded breakthrough thanks to the speed of Matthew Peca, but as the speedy forward broke in on Adam Huska he pushed his shot wide of the net.
On the Rocket’s second power play of the game Ryan Poehling collected a perfect feed from Alexandre Alain, but could not beat the post, keeping the game tied late in the second period. Then a pair of face-off violations put the Rocket back on the penalty kill, which was again flawless, despite a few nervy moments.
Things continued to get more physical as Mason Geertsen finally found someone to dance with. Antoine Waked who was coming to the defence of Jake Evans. Evans was hurt on a play where Geertsen made no attempt at the puck and drove Evans’ head into the glass and was not penalized outside of his fighting major. Evans remained in the game.
The Rocket, feeling hard done, brought the physicality in their own right. Alex Belzile took a seat for punching a Wolf Pack player as he skated by, earning him a two minute minor penalty. Then Lukas Vejdemo retaliated against a Danny O’Regan high stick, giving Vejdemo two minutes, and O’Regan four for the double minor to end the period.
The quick feet of Charles Hudon drew a tripping call to start the third period, as Nick Ebert was sent to the box for the infraction. The Rocket man advantage had a few solid looks, but Adam Huska continued to stonewall the Laval attacks on his net as the play returned to even strength. Alex Belzile’s struggle to stay out of the box continued shortly thereafter, with an interference call sending him to the box for a third time in the contest.
The best scoring chance of the man advantage for Hartford ended up being for Laval as their penalty kill continued to stymie opposing power plays. Vejdemo won the draw to Xavier Ouellet who cranked the shot off the crossbar. It did appear as though the Wolf Pack took the lead on a goal by Geertsen, but it was ruled that he shoved Cayden Primeau moments before scoring, thus cancelling the goal.
While Dale Weise continued to agitate Geertsen in a scrum the Rocket went back on the power play moments later with Nick Ebert kicking the skates out from under Lukas Vejdemo, signalling the fifth man advantage for Laval in the game. It looked like the Rocket had finally found their second goal too as Michael McCarron swept a shot by Huska, but a lunging skate save by Darren Raddysh, kept the puck out at the goal line.
What an incredible skate save by Darren Raddysh to deny Michael McCarron a goal. pic.twitter.com/m2pVn1SOWv— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 2, 2019
Overtime came shortly after, but the Rocket had a steep challenge ahead of them as Weise took a badly timed tripping call with eight seconds left in regulation. The Laval penalty killers proved one final time in the game why they’re the best in the AHL, shutting down the four-on-three man advantage, and forcing the game into a shootout.
Cayden Primeau stood tall, turning away all three Hartford shooters, and Alex Belzile made amends for his eight penalty minutes by out-waiting Adam Huska, and flicking a backhand shot for the only goal that was needed.
That now marks three straight wins for the Rocket, and they’ll have a big test on Saturday when the Toronto Marlies come to Place Bell for a 3:00 p.m. showdown.
1. Alex Belzile (Shootout winning goal)
2. Antoine Waked (1 goal)
3. Adam Huska (27 saves)