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Laval @ Rochester recap & highlights: Michael McNiven’s strong start falls short against the Americans

The young goalie did all he could, but a deeper Rochester team still grabbed both points on Friday.

Club de Hockey Canadien

Wednesday night’s game against the Binghamton Devils was one to forget for a Laval Rocket team clinging to the faintest of Calder Cup playoff hopes. Undisciplined play and a stagnating power play combined to fuel a 5-1 defeat to a Devils team that had not won in 10 games. Perhaps bigger than the result on the ice was the loss of rookie centre Lukas Vejdemo, who was hit hard by John Ramage early in the first period. Vejdemo was wobbly while leaving the ice, and did not make the trip to Rochester and Toronto.

While the team will be bolstered by the addition of standout WHL defender Josh Brook, he will not join the team until Saturday’s game against the Marlies.

After Connor LaCouvee had his poorest outing in a Rocket uniform on Wednesday (and through no fault of his own), Michael McNiven got the nod from Joël Bouchard against the Americans. Rejoining the lineup also was Thomas Ebbing, taking the place of Morgan Adams-Moisan. Also of note was the promotion of Nikita Jevpalovs to the top line alongside Jake Evans and Alex Belzile.

The earliest chance of the game for either side fell to Alexandre Grenier, who was the beneficiary of a poor pass off the boards by the Amerks defence. The veteran walked into the slot and wired a shot that Adam Wilcox was able to fend off with his glove.

The Amerks took some control of the game after that, holding the puck in Laval’s zone, but only testing McNiven once with a long range shot by Brandon Hickey.

After a heavy shift by the fourth line in the Rochester zone, the puck came down the other way, aided by a penalty on Marc-Olivier Roy. With Wilcox on the bench and an extra attacker on the ice, a goal-mouth scrum saw Sean Malone poke the puck home for the game’s opening goal.

The Rochester pressure continued on the following faceoff, with McNiven again being forced to locate and cover the puck with a mass of humanity in and around his crease.

McNiven was called on again to keep the deficit at just one when Danny O’Regan spun out of the corner and picked out Malone in the slot. The Rocket netminder lunged out, snagging the puck with his glove and keeping the Rocket in the game against a heavy attack.

Hayden Verbeek flew the zone with a breakout pass off the faceoff, forcing the Amerks defence to hook him to slow his progress. Then Tage Thompson fired a puck out of play, giving Laval a two-man advantage.

They took full advantage of it. Xavier Ouellet let a shot go from the point, and while Andrew MacWilliam buried Evans onto his goalie, Belzile found the loose puck and lifted it over the chaos around the net for his 16th goal.

Another Thompson turnover led to another look for the Rocket, but they could not get a clean shot away, and the two sides headed into the intermission tied at one.

Ebbing put the Rocket on an early penalty kill with a kneeing penalty, but a big short-handed breakaway and great positioning negated the Rochester attack without any real danger directed on net. They had to do it shortly after that once more as Maxim Lamarche slashed a Rochester forward on a breakaway, and again some incredible goaltending by McNiven (and a shattered stick for Thompson) saw Laval kill off the minor.

Even when the Rocket earned some time outside of their own zone, it did not last long, with Belzile putting the team short-handed, and this time the Amerks made it count. Remi Elie fired a puck around the boards that found O’Regan. He walked in uncontested and fired a slapshot over McNiven’s shoulder to break the deadlock late in the second period.

A late penalty on the Amerks allowed Laval to start the third period with a full two-minute power play, and a massive chance to claw back into the game. The Rocket did not need the full two minutes, as a hard rim around by Evans drew the defenders off Belzile. Audette collected the dump-in and picked out Belzile, who roofed his second goal of the game with ease.

Belzile continued to be in the spotlight as he buried C.J. Smith with a hit, then engaged with Kurt Gosselin who challenged him for it. Despite the gloves coming off, the duo were each hit with just a minor penalty for roughing, and the game shifted to four-on-four.

The teams continued trading chances after that as the game opened up in the third period, Hunter Shinkaruk missed a centring pass from Audette, while at the other end it was the pads of McNiven denying Smith right on the doorstep.

Off the following faceoff the puck made its way to the point, and a big slapshot from Arvin Atwal was redirected by Thompson, putting Rochester back on top.

Laval did come back down the ice in a hurry, and with a mass of bodies in front of the net it looked like a shot from the point went in off of that pile and behind Wilcox. The play continued, and even when play was halted for a dislodged net, it was not reviewed, leaving the Rocket still trailing by one.

Even a late push with the net empty was not enough as Thompson tacked on an insurance goal to seal the defeat for Laval. They’ll now head out and face the Toronto Marlies on Saturday night.

Three Stars

1. Tage Thompson (2 Goals, 1 Assist)

2. Alex Belzile (2 Goals)

3. Danny O’Regan (1 Goal)