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Rocket @ Moose recap & highlights: Michael McNiven shines to close out 7-0-1 road trip

The Rocket were outshot for a change, but McNiven turned aside nearly everything he faced.

Shanna Martin

On their longest road trip of the season, the Laval Rocket had compiled a fantastic 6-0-1 record heading into their eighth and final game. Ahead of them was a tremendous task, a fourth game against the Manitoba Moose, and they’d be doing while severely short-handed in terms of forwards.

Alex Belzile, Lukas Vejdemo, Jesse Ylönen, Jan Myšák, and Jordan Weal were all banged up, with the last three being injured at the hands of the Moose on Sunday afternoon. Even with Yannick Veilleux back from suspension, the Rocket had just 12 forwards available for the game, one that was sure to be running high in terms of tension. The rest of the team on defence remained the same, while Michael McNiven got the nod as the starter.

McNiven was busy right off the hop, as the Moose piled up the opening few looks on net, namely with Nathan Todd getting a heavy shot that caught just a piece of McNiven’s glove and deflecting away from the net. An odd-man Manitoba rush also threatened the Rocket early, but a great defensive read by Cam Hillis allowed the rookie to break the play up before it created a shot on goal.

As the first period passed the halfway mark, the thing that came to define the opening half of the game started: a parade of penalties.

First it was Jonathan Kovacevic heading off for a slash, but before the Rocket’s power play was even a minute old Jimmy Oligny and Joseph Blandisi each were called for roughing. The Rocket’s annoyance with Oligny isn’t a shock given his hand in the injuries suffered on Sunday. The Moose managed to fend off the Rocket power play, and then went to an advantage of their own with Brandon Baddock sitting for holding.

The Rocket penalty-killers were able to dispatch the Moose man advantage with relative ease, but soon found themselves killing another penalty when Michael Pezzetta took a seat for interference. This time the Moose made the Rocket pay for their lack of discipline, as Cole Perfetti pounced on a rebound to open up the scoring.

That was the only goal of the first period, leaving Laval trailing as the teams headed into the intermission.

After spending the majority of the first period killing off penalties, the Rocket struck pay dirt first early in the second. A cross-ice feed to Joseph Blandisi kicked the whole play off in the Moose zone. He then dished off to Joël Teasdale, who hesitated for a second before leaving the puck for Corey Schueneman. The Rocket defenceman barged ahead uncontested to the net, and dangled around Mikhail Berdin to bury his third goal of the year.

Laval almost immediately put themselves in another bad spot as Otto Leskinen was called for interference. After allowing a power-play goal in the first period, the Rocket yielded nothing and then drew a penalty of their own. Much like the Moose, the Rocket couldn’t find a breakthrough and returned to even strength with both teams still looking for a second goal.

The two teams traded power plays late in the period, but neither produced much of anything as they headed into the second intermission still tied.

The third period had another flurry for the Rocket, they just had to weather an early push from the Moose this time. After blocking some clean looks, the puck came to the right boards, with a 50/50 puck just beyond the Rocket bench. Michael Pezzetta jumped on it, powering through a Manitoba attacker and breaking in on a two-on-one with Hayden Verbeek. Pezzetta opted to call his own number, wiring his first goal of the year past Berdin to put Laval in the lead.

Despite being behind on the shot counter to start the third, the Rocket slowly began to pile up their chances, and with their pressure cranking up they managed to draw a hooking penalty, sending them to their third power play of the game. To continue the trend, the Rocket weren’t able to find an insurance marker once again.

With the finish line in sight, the Rocket again put McNiven and the penalty kill to the test as Baddock was sent to the box on a roughing minor. Despite the Moose pressing hard to find a tying goal, the short-handed Rocket battled them back, getting through another power play with their lead intact, thanks in a big part to the strong showing from their netminder.

With just under three minutes left to play the Rocket had one final hill to climb, a final penalty kill with the Moose having pulled their goaltender. For a fourth time in a row, the penalty-killers got it done, then had only to contend with an extra Manitoba skater. The Moose nearly did the impossible again, but Nathan Todd missed the wide open net and the rebound fell to the Rocket. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard carried the puck out and passed off to Blandisi, who had his shot blocked by a thrown stick. As a result, he was awarded the goal, and that was all the Rocket needed to seal the win on Tuesday.

Final Score: Laval 3, Manitoba 1

The Rocket now head home to open a three-game series against the Stockton Heat starting on Friday evening at 7:00 PM EDT.

Three Stars

  1. Michael Pezzetta (1G)
  2. Michael McNiven (35 Saves, Win)
  3. Cole Perfetti (1G)