Michael McNiven got the victory for the Laval Rocket, but is it enough to keep him in a Rocket uniform for a little while longer?
“Honestly, I have no clue,” McNiven said after allowing four goals on 35 shots in a 5-4 overtime victory over the Utica Comets Wednesday night at Place Bell.
“It was a fun game. It was nice to be home with the guys. It was nice to play in front of the Montreal fans too.”
McNiven was called up from the Norfolk Admirals Monday once Cayden Primeau was recalled from Laval to replace a sick Carey Price Monday. The 20-year old has spent his 2019-20 campaign on three different ECHL teams as the Canadiens don’t have an ECHL affiliate. Primeau was returned to the Rocket Wednesday morning, but McNiven was given the chance to start anyway. He learned he was starting the morning of Wednesday’s game.
“I was excited for the opportunity,” McNiven said. “I wasn’t really expecting it to be honest.”
But now, the Rocket have three goaltenders including Keith Kinkaid.
“You [have] to feel a little bad for [McNiven],” Rocket forward Jake Evans said postgame. “I think if you get sent down, you want to be in a good spot. I guess when you’re playing pro, you want to feel like you have a home. It’s tough for him, I think. You don’t know where you’re going to play the next week.”
“I’ve only heard good things about him in the East Coast,” Rocket captain Xavier Ouellet said. “I only heard positive stuff, that he was doing good and he was working hard. That’s what gave him this opportunity and he took it. Tonight, he did a good job. As a player, as a goalie, that’s all you can do.”
Rocket head coach Joel Bouchard confirmed that if Primeau hadn’t been called up by the Habs earlier in the week that he would’ve started the young goalie Wednesday. But he felt McNiven had done enough to merit a start in the American Hockey League against the Comets.
“He didn’t crack when the score was 4-4,” Bouchard said. “We kind of threw him in the lion’s den. The team in front of him isn’t at the level where we’re ready, collectively, to take control of games.”
The four goals McNiven allowed don’t look great on a scoresheet, but defensive and special teams miscues (the Rocket allowed two power play goals on four chances against Utica) led to those goals against. But McNiven did make key saves throughout the game, including a highlight-reel stop early in the second period.
Michael McNiven with the big stretch for the save on Lukas Jasek. pic.twitter.com/w9E1FHgycb— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 6, 2020
“It felt good again to be on the ice and it was a little nerve wracking. Second shot [allowed] went in, but after that I felt fine and I got the jitterbugs out after the first.”
The Rocket have Thursday off, which will allow coach Bouchard to take a “step back” and evaluate McNiven, but he doesn’t know what will happen to him next. McNiven doesn’t either, but he’s looking to make the most of his latest stay in Laval. However long that lasts.
“All I know is that I’m here and that I’m happy to be here.” McNiven said.