If you’re hoping for playoff hockey later this spring, your best bet may come from a team playing a couple of steps from the Montmorency metro station in Laval.
“It’s playoff hockey from now on and these points are pretty crucial,” Rocket forward Jake Evans said Wednesday night after scoring the overtime-winner in a 3-2 victory over the Syracuse Crunch.
The Montreal Canadiens are quite a few points behind teams in a playoff chase and that gap is growing larger as they sit idle. Les Canadiennes, once a perennial playoff team and Clarkson Cup favourite, no longer exist.
This leaves fans the Laval Rocket, a team in its third year at Place Bell and currently occupying the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division thanks to Wednesday night’s victory against a fellow playoff aspirant and division rival.
The game got chippy at points as scrums and fights ensued. Laval’s Michael Pezzetta and Syracuse’s Daniel Walcott exchanged fisticuffs in the first, while a number of roughing and holding penalties were handed out following a melee in the second period. In total, 48 penalty minutes were doled out between both teams.
“It’s like playoff hockey,” Evans said. “I think we’re both battling for a spot in the playoffs. We’re both hard-working teams and when you play a team four or five times in a month obviously get annoyed with some players and then get a little more intense in the game.”
The clichéd answer from teams is usually that they’ve already adopted a playoff mentality from the beginning of the season. But some members of the Rocket feel some of their teammates returning to the lineup is what has them thinking playoffs.
“We had a lot of injuries and call-ups,” Evans explained. “We know what team we have. We’re confident with the team we’ve got. We’ve got a good mix of vets and a good mix of younger guys.”
“We needed guys to step up and we need guys to bear down in the absence of guys,” Rocket forward Matthew Peca said. “Our record was very good and the special teams were good if not better than when we had our full lineup. So that’s that’s positive, and that’s the kind of effort we’re going to need from guys coming back.”
The Rocket have veterans who have experienced the American Hockey League playoffs before. Whether it’s Peca, who played with the Crunch during their 2017 run to the Calder Cup Final, or All-Star forward Charles Hudon, who had a brief taste that same year before losing in the first round to the Crunch.
“We were underdogs,” Hudon said. “We were not supposed to make the playoffs but we did it. This year, we got a good group of guys, a good goaltender, and we can show some good stuff in the playoffs. So we’re going to go game by game and we’ll see.”
But while the players are setting themselves in playoff mode, Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard is still trying to take games one at a time.
“It’s a lot of moving parts in the American League, my friend,” Bouchard said. “A lot of guys coming in and out. A lot of guys that have expectations. They want to do well but then they have their personal agenda. Through all this, we were really focusing on grabbing points when they’re on the table.”
The Crunch and Rocket won’t meet again until April 8, but, if all goes to plan, the matchup could mean something for both teams as they fight to make the post-season.
“We really want to make the playoffs here for this organization,” Evans said, “and for the fan groups that have been great the past few years.”