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Michael McNiven’s journey takes him back to the start just as the Rocket need him most

A trying season for the goaltender is turning around at the right time.

Shanna Martin

When Michael McNiven was loaned to the ECHL’s Adirondack Thunder on October 1, it was the start of a North American tour in a quest to get playing time. The tour took him from Glens Falls, New York to Florida, back to Laval and then to Virginia.

Perhaps it is fitting that McNiven’s year finally got some clarity in New York state. Just 109 miles west of where the Thunder play, McNiven got the start for the Laval Rocket against the Utica Comets. It was his second start of the season in the AHL, but his first as Cayden Primeau’s official goaltending partner.

Earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens loaned Keith Kinkaid to the Charlotte Checkers opening the door for the 22-year-old. McNiven was happy to kick it down.

He made 28 saves in a 5-2 win over the third-place Comets, and was a big part of the Rocket killing six of the seven penalties they took in the game. He moved to 2-0 in the AHL season, both wins coming against the Comets. As the Rocket continue their playoff push, McNiven will be a key contributor. Primeau will be the top guy in Laval, but two goaltenders will be needed and McNiven will be called upon to win big points for the team.

In the ECHL this season, he has a 9-11-2 record with a 3.11 goals against average, .909 save percentage and three shutouts, which is tied for fifth in the league despite playing fewer games than everyone ahead of him.

The Rocket offence came to play in Utica, scoring five goals on just nine shots in the first 25:50 of the game, chasing Michael DiPietro. The scoring outburst came despite Jesperi Kotkaniemi missing his second straight game with the flu, and Charles Hudon and Jake Evans in the NHL.

Alexandre Alain and Jake Lucchini opened the scoring for Laval in the first period. It was Lucchini’s first goal with Laval since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Laurent Dauphin added two goals of his own in the second period, putting him up to seven goals in 22 games since being acquired from the Nashville Predators. He had seven goals in 33 games with the Milwaukee Admirals.

Yannick Veilleux scored the other goal. Nikita Jevpalovs had two assists while Cale Fleury, Lukas Vejdemo, Gustav Olofsson, Kevin Lynch, and Ryan Poehling added assists.

Poehling left the game in the second period, and did not return. He will be re-evaluated in Laval this week, but told play by play announcer Anthony Marcotte that he will be OK. The injury isn’t believed to be serious and he won’t be out long term.

The Rocket play next in Cleveland on Thursday and Friday. Laval is three points behind the Syracuse Crunch for the final playoff spot in the AHL’s North Division.