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Rocket @ Americans recap & highlights: Alex Belzile has another big night in Rochester

The captain was key as the beleaguered Rocket collected another win.

Laval Rocket

The wild start to 2023 continued for the Laval Rocket as they rolled back into Rochester for another meeting with the Americans. Last week in the same fixture, they fired 42 shots on net and found themselves on the losing end of a 2-1 game despite a strong showing.

In the rematch the Rocket were now without Jesse Ylönen, Rem Pitlick, and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard who were called up due to the injury crisis in Montreal. That meant the Rocket were down to the bare minimum of available players and running a fourth line of entirely ECHL call-ups. In net, Kevin Poulin was again given the nod, his 16th start in the last 19 games.

It was a great start for the Rocket as they forced Malcolm Subban into a huge cross-crease save in the opening moments, and kept the Americans on their heels. The newly remade top line didn’t need long to find the back of the net thanks to a fantastic play by Anthony Richard. The Rocket’s leading scorer stole the puck with a stick lift, creating a two-on-zero rush for Laval, and Richard put the puck on a tee for Alex Belzile to blow past Subban for an early goal.

Just 30 seconds later, the Rocket had to kill a penalty off as Mattias Norlinder was called for a trip as he tried to stop a Lukas Rousek breakaway chance. Laval’s penalty kill fended off the Rochester man advantage, escaping the danger with relative ease and keeping their one-goal lead intact.

Not long after that it was the Rocket taking advantage of Rochester’s poor puck management and making it a 2-0 game. Santino Centorame pinched in deep from the point, swiping a puck from Brett Murray and he fed Gabriel Bourque alone in front of goal to double Laval’s advantage.

With a two-goal cushion, Poulin had to be sharp as the Amerks tried to claw their way out of the deficit. Jiri Kulich was especially dangerous, but some strong goaltending from Poulin allowed the Rocket to exit the ice leading after the opening 20 minutes.

The Americans came out strong to start the second period, pushing the Rocket back into their own zone. But one counter from Laval drew a penalty and sent the Rocket to their first power play of the night. The Rocket were struggling to produce much of anything, but thanks to Mitch Eliot they were handed a two-man advantage for 30 seconds after he was too rough with Pierrick Dubé on a zone entry.

The five-on-three yielded nothing, but it wasn’t long into the remaining power play before Richard did what he does best. Peter Abbandonato drove the net to create a chance, Belzile grabbed the rebound and fed Richard, and Richard buried his 19th of the year to make it 3-0.

It didn’t take long before Laval added another goal on a weird bounce in front of the Rochester net. A long shot bounced off of Subban’s pads, and as it sat in front of the goal line, Lucas Condotta charged in to push it over the line. It originally appeared that Condotta had pushed Subban’s pad in, but the officials disagreed, leading Subban to smash his stick and earning two minutes in penalty time for it.

With a four-goal lead the Rocket had to deal with an Americans side annoyed with the officiating, and furious at the overall way the game had gone. The push from Rochester finally broke through as Mason Jobst fed Anders Bjork in the faceoff circle, and Bjork beat Poulin at the near post to make it 4-1.

A strong end to the period saw Laval nearly make it a four-goal lead once again, but Subban made a handful of big stops as the second period expired.

Rochester again came out of the gates strong to try to cut into the Rocket’s significant lead, and again when the Rocket were able to counter they drew a penalty for their efforts. The man advantage struggled to generate real pressure, but when the play returned to even strength it was all Laval as they forced Subban into a huge windmill glove save on a one-timer in the slot.

Rochester handed Laval another power play with 10 minutes to play, but its struggles eventually forced William Trudeau to take a penalty of his own and shifted the play to four-on-four. Laval managed to keep Rochester at bay for their abbreviated power play and settled in from there to defend their lead in the final six minutes.

With four minutes left in regulation, the Rocket had another penalty to kill off with Abbandonato taking a seat for slashing. The Amerks pulled Subban to give themselves a two-man advantage on the power play, and it took only a few seconds for Belzile to fire a puck the length of the ice into the empty net.

With 57 seconds left, the Americans added a second goal as Tyson Kozak drove to the front of the net and finished off a pass from behind the net from Bjork. The goal was mostly just consolation as the Rocket celebrated a win at the final whistle.

Final Score: Laval 5, Rochester 2

The Rocket now head home for three straight games, the first of which is against the AHL’s oldest franchise, the Hershey Bears, on Friday night at Place Bell.