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Rocket vs. Crunch recap & highlights: Michael McNiven stars as Laval scores a huge win

After a long time away, the Rocket came back with a massive regulation win.

Shanna Martin/EOTP

It’s been quite a long time since we last saw the Laval Rocket in action, and since that time the lineup has changed so much that it would take two full paragraphs to detail it all. The biggest change is that former Hab Devante Smith-Pelly had joined the club on tryout deal, and he was slotted in on the fourth-line left-wing spot.

Also rejoining the Rocket was Michael McNiven. As Jake Allen and Cayden Primeau exited COVID protocol for the Habs, McNiven was sent down with an opportunity to get his season back on track. Also joining the Rocket were a handful of standouts from the Lions de Trois-Rivières, including Justin Ducharme and Shawn St-Amant.

The early going was not kind to the Rocket as the Crunch got their experienced stars out on the ice against primarily ECHL call-ups and hemmed the Rocket deep in their own zone for a pair of lengthy shifts. McNiven had to be sharp when corralling rebounds, and with his steady work in net Laval was able to grow into the game shortly after.

Once the Rocket found some zone time they made the absolute most of it. Alexandre Fortin sped into the Crunch zone, dishing a puck back to Olivier Galipeau along the blue line. Galipeau slid a one-time feed to Charles-David Beaudoin, who ripped a chest-high shot cleanly in on net, but Fortin was crossing by through the slot, and deflected it just enough to fool Maxime Lagace and put the Rocket into the lead.

Even with the lead the Rocket continued to keep pressing the Crunch, never allowing their rivals to get their footing fully in the offensive zone. The Laval attack wasn’t anything complicated either — short passes and clearing their lines — yet they didn’t need much more than that to generate their chances. When they finally created an odd-man rush through the neutral zone, the Rocket drew the game’s first power play near the end the first period.

J.-S. Dea nearly doubled the Rocket lead late, but he clutched up on the shot, trying to force a pass instead, and Lagace was able to get back in position to deny the chance.

The second frame started much like the majority of the first period went, with the teams trading low-danger chances through the opening minutes. However, one defensive miscommunication allowed Frank Hora to leave a puck for Maxim Cajkovic inside the faceoff circle. The Rocket failed to challenge him and the Crunch winger wired a shot off the bar and in to tie the game with just over four minutes played.

To make things worse, Tobie Paquette-Bisson was called for high-sticking shortly after the goal, and the Rocket penalty kill had to square off with a formidable Crunch man advantage. Laval didn’t let that faze them however, as a misplayed pass to the slot turned into an immediate short-handed rush for the Rocket. Brandon Gignac played a pass over to Gabriel Bourque, and the veteran winger fed it back across the goal to Gignac, who was in the process of jumping over a Crunch defender. He landed gracefully and calmly finished into the wide-open cage to restore the Rocket lead.

Syracuse was able to get that goal back in short order, as Charles Hudon found the back of the net with a daring dangle and wicked backhand. The Crunch pressure continued to mount, and Gignac was whistled for a hook, sending Laval to a crucial penalty kill.

Laval handled the man advantage with aplomb once more. McNiven held the fort as the Crunch tried to take the lead back from the Rocket, and before the period let out, the Rocket had to kill another minor penalty. The duo of Bourque and Gignac was instrumental in keeping Syracuse off the board to end the period with some great short-handed forechecking.

The Rocket managed to kill the penalty, and then in the same shift Galipeau drew a tripping call, sending the Rocket back to their second power play with just over 90 seconds played in the final period. The Crunch penalty kill kept Laval from retaking the lead, and the two sides returned to trading looks at even strength as the final period wore on.

It looked like the Rocket’s legs were fading a bit in the late stages, but their efforts never quit as they continued to chip away, looking for a third goal against Lagace. Their hard work was finally rewarded when Carl Neill hammered a shot wide of the Crunch net, but it bounced off the end boards, and right to Dea. The veteran forward buried his chance into the open cage, and the Rocket were once again in the driver’s seat for the final minutes of the contest.

With just under two minutes left to play, Lagace vacated his net, and the Crunch went with six attackers as the Rocket tried their best to to keep their lead intact. Against a fierce attack from the Crunch, some gutsy blocks allowed the Rocket to escape with a major victory.

Final Score: Laval 3, Syracuse 2

The team will now pack up and head on the road to play Chuckie Sideburns and the Springfield Thunderbirds on Friday.