The Laval Rocket returned to the ice after a busy off-season full of changes for the team coming off a playoff loss to the Utica Comets. Gone were the captain and star forward last year in Alex Belzile and Anthony Richard, gone were vets Tory Dello, Madison Bowey, and Kevin Poulin.
In return was an infusion of youth, a near embarrassment of riches in terms of prospects and some familiar faces to guide them. Gabriel Bourque took up the C from Belzile, while Tobie Paquette-Bisson returned after a year in the Los Angeles Kings organization. Mitchell Stephens anchored the centre position along with Philippe Maillet, and around them was a cavalcade of prospects.
Emil Heineman and Joshua Roy took up first-line wing spots, while Sean Farrell joined Joel Armia on the second. Xavier Simoneau, Riley Kidney, and Lias Andersson slotted in on the third as well. On defence, the resurgent Mattias Norlinder and rookie Logan Mailloux made up the first pair, while William Trudeau and Jayden Struble fell in alongside Gustav Lindström and Paquette-Bissson.
Jakub Dobeš got his first career professional start, with the veteran Strauss Mann serving as his backup on the night.
It didn’t take long for the Rocket to fire up the high-powered offence as they tallied the opening goal of the season in under three minutes. Sean Farrell powered toward the net, leaving a puck behind for Mitchell Stephens in the faceoff circle. Stephens collected it and found Joel Armia streaking into the zone and fed him a pass that the NHL veteran squeaked through Arturs Silovs to make it an early Laval lead.
The Rocket lead wasn’t safe as Lindström went to the box for delay of game. Just 13 seconds in, Vasily Podkolzin snuck a shot under Dobeš’s arm on the near post to tie the game at one-all with about eight minutes played.
Heineman followed things up with a penalty of his own, but the Rocket penalty-killers were dialled in this time, keeping the Canucks to the outside and generating a handful of short-handed chances on their own to keep the game tied.
Then, it was the Joshua Roy show as the Rocket top line took over the game. Roy darted into the offensive zone, passing off to Heineman and circling back for a better attacking angle. Heineman held the puck up, then put it right on Roy’s stick as he re-entered the zone. Roy then dangled around a Canucks defender and rifled his first professional goal past Silovs to give Laval the lead once again.
The lead did not last to the end of the period for the Rocket as the Canucks scored their second of the night against the run of play. Arshdeep Bains bolted in off the wing and put a pass to the front of the net, where Trudeau appeared to knock it into the upper part of his own net, tying the game at two goals each heading into the first intermission.
A quieter start marked the beginning of the second period as the Rocket and Canucks battled for leverage and the lead. A Canucks penalty presented the opportunity for the Rocket to take the lead, but some great goaltending from Silovs denied Riley Kidney a sure goal off a Mailloux pass.
The momentum after that was leaning heavily in the Rocket’s favour as they put the Canucks under siege following a massive hit from Bourque, but Silovs again was up to the task to survive the onslaught. Even another Canucks power play did little to slow down the Rocket pressure as Laval killed off the advantage and went back to dominating the offensive zone.
Again against the run of play, the Canucks found a goal, putting them in the lead for the first time. After a lengthy cycle that kept the Rocket hemmed in, the puck found its way to Jack Rathbone at the point. He stepped into his shot and blew it past Jakub Dobeš to give Abbotsford the lead.
That lead soon doubled as Trudeau found himself pressured behind the Rocket net and was stripped of the puck, which was fed right into the slot for Linus Karlsson, who had no trouble besting Dobeš to make it a 4-2 game late in the second period.
It was soon a 5-2 game as Dobeš allowed a goal on a third straight shot as Podkolzin slid one through his five-hole. It was a goal that ended Dobeš’s AHL debut as Strauss Mann took over in net for the rookie.
Tempers boiled over as the period came to a close with Trudeau and Lindström finding themselves in the middle of a scrum after a late shot on Mann. Laval had a strong shift to end the period, but would need a massive effort in the final 20 to grab at least a point in their home-opener.
The Rocket got the quick start they needed as Condotta forced a turnover inside the Canucks’ zone and poked the puck into the slot. Brandon Gignac went speeding in after it, and rifled his first goal of the year by Silovs to get the Rocket back into the game.
The bad blood from the previous period continued in the third as well, with Chase Wouters levelling Norlinder. Mailloux wasted zero time throwing down his gloves to fight the Canucks captain. The fight left the rookie stinging, as he headed to the locker room for treatment on his hand following the scrap.
A rough night on defence continued for Laval following the scrap as Lindstrom was caught reaching in the neutral zone, allowing Bains a free lane to the net where he tucked it neatly by Strauss Mann to make it 6-3.
Laval did not go quietly following the setback, drawing an offensive-zone penalty and finding a fourth goal on the man advantage. Norlinder put a waist-high shot on net that rebounded to Roy perfectly. Roy’s shot was saved, but Armia was there to chip in the rebound to give the Rocket a faint bit of hope late in the third period.
Laval kept the pressure on as the final minutes ticked down, with Stephens drawing a penalty by being cross-checked face first into the goal post by Matt Irwin. There was no miracle comeback in the cards for the Rocket, however, as a flubbed puck along the blue line led to a Canucks empty-net goal to seal win for the Canucks.
Final Score: Abbotsford 7, Laval 4
The Rocket will have their chance for revenge as these two sides face off at 3:00 PM at Place Bell on Saturday.