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Rocket vs. Crunch preview: Place Bell finally gets its playoff moment

Five years in the making, the arena gets its place in the spotlight.

Cleveland Monsters v Laval Rocket Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

I remember the first time I thought about what playoff hockey would be like at Place Bell in Laval: October 4, 2019. It was the Laval Rocket’s home opener against the Cleveland Monsters.

The crowd had white towels, similar to the ones Laval will be putting on every seat for the team’s game on Thursday night. Twenty-three seconds into the game, Alex Belzile scored and the crowd waved the towels and erupted.

It was at that moment that I thought about what a playoff game at Place Bell would be like. The Rocket would end up losing the game, but you could tell what they had built not only on the ice, but in terms of the fan base as well. It was one of the reasons the AHL wanted the All-Star Classic in the city.

By now, you know how the story went. That season — with the Rocket on a late-season push to the playoffs — ended with the cancellation of the AHL season. The next year, a very good team won a division title in an empty Bell Centre, but there were no playoffs. The All-Star Classic they were supposed to host in 2021 will now be in 2023.

That leads us to Thursday night, when the team will finally play a home playoff game in Laval. On top of white towels, there will be white t-shirts on every seat as the team is asking fans to take part in the White Out.

Only three players dressed for the home opener in 2019 will be dressed for Thursday’s Game 3 as the Rocket battle the Syracuse Crunch. Cayden Primeau is one of them. He was the backup in the 2019 home opener, waiting to make his pro debut, much like he was the backup in Game 1 as he waited to make his pro playoff debut.

After winning Game 2, Primeau was asked about the prospect of playing a playoff game in front of the home fans, and as the question was being asked he started with a huge smile.

“They showed up all year when they could, and for the last three years you can feel their energy. We thrive off of it,” Primeau said. “Being able to give them a playoff game and play a playoff game in Place Bell will be amazing.”

Primeau will start in Game 3 after making 37 saves in his playoff debut in Game 2’s win.

Rocket forward Danick Martel said that the long week of practice in the middle of a playoff series was different, and that it felt long but everyone is ready to get back to game action.

“I think everyone is excited and we’re anxious that the game starts,” said Rocket forward Rafaël Harvey-Pinard.

After losing Game 1, Rocket players were confident and had the simple goal of bringing the series back to Laval tied 1-1. Now they have a chance not only to play at home, but to win the series without having to go back to Syracuse, taking home-ice advantage in what is now a best-of-three series.

“We’re going to war against them, after the first two games we proved it will be a long war and coming back 1-1 is what we wanted,” said Martel.

The Rocket mantra has been “never too high, never too low,” and several players have used that exact phrase since the series started, including two on Thursday morning.

Keeping their emotions in check will be important for Game 3, because while it’s a home game for Laval, there will be several Quebec-born players on the Crunch who will be playing in front of friends and family.

Gabriel Bourque will be a game-time decision, and the decision on whether they go with six or seven defencemen will depend on his status for the game. In Game 2, they played seven defencemen and 11 forwards, including Montreal Canadiens prospect Mattias Norlinder.

Game 3 will start at 7:00 p.m. at Place Bell. It will be broadcast on RDS and AHL TV, plus on radio at TSN 690 and 91.9 Sports. Game 4 will be on Saturday at 3:00 p.m.