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AHL Playoff Preview: Rocket start post-season run in Syracuse on Friday

It has been a long time coming for the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate.

Syracuse Crunch v Laval Rocket Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

In their fifth season, the Laval Rocket are set to play their first playoff game on Friday night when they play the Syracuse Crunch in Game 1 of their best-of-five series.

Ironically, the last time that the Montreal Canadiens AHL affiliate played a playoff game, the St. John’s IceCaps lost the series to the Crunch 3-1 in the 2017 Calder Cup playoffs. The IceCaps won Game 1 at home, and two of their three losses came in overtime. Former Canadiens AHL captain Gabriel Dumont scored the OT winner in the final game. Dumont is still on the Crunch roster. Former Rocket and current Crunch forward Charles Hudon played in that series as well.

The Rocket have a mix of experience and youth. While most of the roster has not played an AHL playoff game, they do have 10 players who played a AHL or NHL playoff game in North America. Six others played a playoff game in the ECHL or Europe prior to this season, plus the four recent call ups from the Trois-Rivières Lions.

Two players played playoff games for the Canadiens: Devante Smith-Pelly and Rocket captain Xavier Ouellet.

Rocket pro playoff experience

PLAYER GAMES NOTES
PLAYER GAMES NOTES
CEDRIC PAQUETTE 98
ALEX BELZILE 62 ECHL
DEVANTE SMITH-PELLY 51
GABRIEL BOURQUE 49
XAVIER OUELLET 44
KEVIN POULIN 34 5 AHL/NHL
SAMI NIKU 30 9 AHL
MATTIAS NORLINDER 23 SWEDEN
JEAN-SEBASTIEN DEA 22
JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BEAUDIN 22 ECHL
KEVIN ROY 19
DANICK MARTEL 18
LOUIE BELPEDIO 11
TOBIE PAQUETTE-BISSON 11 ECHL
ALEXANDRE FORTIN 8 6 ECHL - 2022
TERRANCE AMOROSA 7 ECHL
MAX KAUFMAN 7 ECHL - 2022
PETER ABBANDONATO 7 ECHL - 2022
JUSTIN DUCHARME 5 ECHL - 2022
JESSE YLÖNEN 3 FINLAND

The coaching staff of Jean-François Houle, Martin Laperriere, and Kelly Buchberger has over 120 professional playoff games between them as players. Houle played 12 playoff games with the Fredericton Canadiens. He has never been head coach of a pro playoff team, but has 26 games as an assistant coach.

Players like Joël Teasdale and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard don’t have pro playoff experience, but have plenty of CHL playoff experience, winning a Memorial Cup.


Mattias Norlinder was a surprise addition to the Rocket playoff roster, coming back from Sweden this week after his season ended with Frölunda HC. He said that he was speaking to his agent about the possibility, and is looking forward to the chance to play for a championship.

Don’t expect Norlinder to play in Game 1 necessarily, as he had been skating on the fourth pair with Terrance Amorosa. The top six of Xavier Ouellet, Louie Belpedio, Sami Niku, Corey Schueneman, Tory Dello, and Tobie Paquette-Bisson will likely get the chance to start the series.

It is also possible that Kevin Poulin may play instead of Cayden Primeau, especially with back-to-back games to start Games 1 and 2 of the series. While that may not seem appropriate for player development, Houle has been steadfast in his approach leading up to the playoffs.

He has said that the team had 72 games to focus on development, but now that they are in the playoffs, decisions will be made that gives the team the best chance to win.


Playoff schedule

Game 1 — Rocket @ Crunch — Friday, May 6 7:00 p.m. [AHL TV, RDS.ca, 91.9 Sports]
Game 2 — Rocket @ Crunch — Saturday, May 7 7:00 p.m. [AHL TV, RDS.ca, 91.9 Sports]
Game 3 — Crunch @ Rocket — Thursday, May 12 7:00 p.m. [AHL TV, RDS, 91.9 Sports, TSN 690]
Game 4* — Crunch @ Rocket — Saturday, May 14 3:00 p.m. [AHL TV, RDS, 91.9 Sports, TSN 690]
Game 5* — Rocket @ Crunch — Tuesday, May 17 7:00 p.m. [AHL TV, RDS.ca, 91.9 Sports]

* - If Necessary