Friday night in Rochester was another hard night of lessons being taught to a young Rocket squad by an older, deeper Americans team. Michael McNiven stood on his head while Alex Belzile and Jake Evans did their best to spur on the Rocket offence against their division rival. A 4-2 loss was the end result, and for their troubles the team rolled into Toronto to square off with the Marlies on Saturday night.
Joël Bouchard was lucky enough to have Josh Brook join his ranks, and the rookie prospect was put right into a big role. Brook suited up on the top pair alongside Xavier Ouellet, creating a duo capable of driving offence and being defensively stable in their own end as well.
Much like the game in Rochester, this was a massive test for the Rocket’s goalie — Connor LaCouvee on Saturday — and by the end of the night he would be a reason why the score was as close as it was.
A bright start for Laval saw good chances by Alexandre Alain and Maxim Lamarche be swallowed up by Kasimir Kaskisuo in the opening minutes. From there it was the deeper Marlies side taking control of the game, as Cole Conrad nearly directed a puck home off a Timothy Liljegren pass. LaCouvee was sharp again, and under siege throughout the opening period.
After Alexandre Grenier was drilled in the face with a puck, the Marlies looked to have opened the scoring on a redirected shot by Chris Mueller. Both officials on the ice immediately waved the goal off, as Mueller had played the puck in with a high stick. Belzile responded by throwing a shot through the crease at the other end, but wasn’t lucky enough to have it find the back of the net.
Things picked up physically as the period entered its final minutes, first with Michael Pezzetta lining up Jeremy Bracco along the benches, and blasting him with a hit that knocked his helmet off. For his trouble, Andreas Borgman instantly swarmed the rookie forward and engaged in a short but spirited tilt. With that duo sitting, Evans joined Pezzetta shortly after, having picked up a two-minute minor for boarding.
The penalty kill and LaCouvee handled the Marlies’ dangerous man advantage, and Laval headed into the first intermission with the score tied, but hanging on against a superior opponent.
The second period saw an even more lopsided edge to the Marlies. LaCouvee faced down 18 shots (Michael McNiven faced 20 in the previous game) as Tpronto began to find the back of the net. Back-to-back penalties by Pezzetta and Ouellet tilted the ice firmly in the home team’s favour. While they killed off Pezzetta’s minor, the Marlies found a goal with the Rocket captain still sitting in the box.
A shot rebounded off of LaCouvee, and Mueller jumped all over the loose puck, tucking it into the back of the net for his first of three goals on the night.
The Rocket penalty march continued with Evans taking a seat once again, this time for holding. LaCouvee stood tall, battling off the potent Toronto attack until Evans exited the box, but even with another strong penalty kill, the Marlies found a second goal before the period was over. A quick turnaround led to the Marlies creating a two-on-one chance, and Adam Brooks fed a pass by a sprawling Brett Lernout to Mueller, who in turn beat a lunging LaCouvee.
Toronto continued to press from there, with Ryan McGregor ringing a shot off the crossbar, and Rasmus Sandin dangling through his defender before sending a shot wide of goal. LaCouvee had to stone Bracco on a partial breakaway, and then again on a three-on-one chance. Barely clinging to life, the Rocket entered the intermission lucky to be down by just two goals.
The third was a better effort from the Rocket, but of their eight shots, none really troubled Kaskisuo as the Marlies seemed content to play out the final 20 minutes. LaCouvee headed for the bench with a few minutes to spare in the game, but the stay wasn’t a long one as Mueller completed his hat trick with an empty-net goal.
A 3-0 loss looks poor on paper, but if not for Connor LaCouvee’s 34 saves, this game might have been even more one-sided. It will be interesting to see what becomes of LaCouvee now, as Cayden Primeau appears set to join the pro ranks from Northeastern of the NCAA.
Laval heads back home to Place Bell for a three-game stint, with two games against the Cleveland Monsters on Wednesday and Friday, then a game with the Hershey Bears on Saturday afternoon.
1. Chris Mueller (3 Goals)
2. Jeremy Bracco (2 Assists)
3. Kasimir Kaskisuo (Win, 19 Saves, Shutout)