After Alexander Holtz’s overtime winner 21 seconds into the extra frame, the Utica Comets and Laval Rocket weren’t done their night. The two teams met at centre ice, and tempers boiled over. Six fighting majors and game misconducts were given out after the game ended.
Utica head coach Kevin Dineen was right in the middle of this fight as well. Danick Martel had some things to say about Dineen after the game. pic.twitter.com/lo9fIoY6AI— Jared Book (@jaredbook) February 5, 2022
“Their coach celebrated in the middle of the ice all game,” said Laval forward Danick Martel. “He wasn’t respecting the game. He lacked respect towards us, towards the officials. It’s for the league to decide but we’re not going to be intimidated either. We don’t deserve to be disrespected like that.”
“They scored in overtime, and their coach went to the middle of the ice, and there was some pushing,” said Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle. “I think we’re building a good rivalry with Utica. I don’t think they like playing us. We showed some character, and I’m proud of our players.”
The two teams play again on April 9 in Laval.
“We were shown a lack of respect tonight, and we’ll remember it all season and in the playoffs as well.”
The post-game antics took the attention away from Laval’s 3-2 loss. The Rocket came back from a 2-0 deficit for the second straight game against the Comets, and they did it with a depleted forward group. Already without Lukas Vejdemo, who wasn’t in the lineup, the team lost centres Alex Belzile and Jean-Sébastien Dea early in the game and played the final two periods with 10 forwards.
All three are unlikely to play when the team plays the Belleville Senators in Belleville on Saturday night.
The Rocket started the game well, forcing Utica goaltender Akira Schmid to make a few big saves, but the game started to turn when the Rocket took penalties midway through the first period. Xavier Ouellet and Joël Teasdale took back-to-back penalties, giving Utica a five-on-three advantage for 46 seconds.
Laval killed both penalties, but the extended power play was enough to swing momentum. The Comets eventually opened the scoring with 5:33 left in the period when a great touch pass from Holtz to A.J. Greer, who snuck behind the defence. Greer fired his shot off the post and in past Kevin Poulin.
“I think we played really, really well in the first period,” said Houle. “It was two power play goals, but they had zero chances at five-on-five. Zero. We blocked a lot of shots on the penalty kill in the first and that’s why we believed we would come back. We did it the last game and we did it tonight.”
Poulin made several big saves in the first period to keep it 1-0, including a big glove save.
Just as the same Brandon Baddock unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was ending, Greer scored his second of the game five-hole to double the Utica lead with 1:12 to go in the opening period.
Poulin continued his strong play in the second period, making several great saves, including one on a Fabian Zetterlund breakaway with around nine minutes remaining. Laval had chances of their own, including a Gianni Fairbrother chance from in close that was stopped by Schmid.
Laval finally solved the Utica goaltender, who was sent down by the NHL’s New Jersey Devils earlier in the day. Tory Dello took a Corey Schueneman pass and walked in to the right circle and fired his second goal of the year over Schmid’s shoulder.
The emotions continued to rise when Gabriel Bourque had a high hit on Comets captain Ryan Schmelzer with just over three minutes to go. Schmelzer had just made a pass, and he left the game. The hit seemed on the limit as he made contact with the head. It was not penalized, but Kevin Bahl and Bourque would go off for fighting.
After Laval had a power play opportunity late in the second that bled into the third period, the game would remain 2-1.
Just about five minutes into the third period, it was Poulin’s turn to keep the game 2-1. After the puck was tipped up in the air, the Rocket goaltender kept the puck out while falling backwards.
Poulin ended the game with 32 saves as the Rocket were outshot 35-22. It was Poulin’s 200th career AHL game.
The Rocket comeback was completed midway through the third period when Schueneman fired a perfect shot from the top of the offensive zone that beat Schmid high. It was Schueneman’s third goal of the season.
Laval had a long bus ride after the game to Belleville where they will play the Senators on Saturday night. Houle said he will let the players rest and sleep in, before implementing the game plan and hoping to play a perfect road game.
Most Rocket forwards played a lot of minutes due to the two injuries, and will likely be asked to step up again Saturday.
Belzile left the game when he went into the boards awkwardly during the team’s five-on-three penalty kill. Dea also left the game after the first period and did not have another shift. Danick Martel ended up playing centre to fill in alongside Peter Abbandonato and JC Beaudin.