After a pair of losses to kick off the season last week, the Laval Rocket found themselves facing down one of their toughest opponents in recent years, the Rochester Americans. Much like Laval, the Amerks were loaded up with prospects and presented one of the AHL’s premier offensive attacks.
The Rocket shifted their lineup from last week, with Gustav Lindström being replaced by Brady Keeper, with captain Gabriel Bourque and Emil Heineman missing out due to injury. Also taking a seat were Jared Davidson and Jan Mysak as healthy scratches, while Filip Mesar, Lucas Condotta, Riley Kidney, and Xavier Simoneau drew in. J.-F. Houle opted to keep Strauss Mann as his starter while Jakub Dobeš served as the backup.
Things didn’t start well for the Rocket as the Ameicans took advantage of the Rocket’s struggling defensive zone play in the opening minutes. Aleksander Kisakov found room to drive the front of the net, creating a rebound for Viktor Neuchev to roof over Strauss Mann for an early lead.
The Americans didn’t let up from there, continuing to pile up shots and keeping the Rocket from generating even a hint of an attack. It wasn’t long before the Rocket found themselves in a two-goal rut as Isak Rosen was sprung on an odd-man rush through the neutral zone. Rosen waited out William Trudeau and fed a pass to Jiri Kulich, who had no problem finishing past Mann to double Rochester’s lead.
Just when it looked like things might be turning a corner for Laval, Philippe Maillet took a huge hit from Riley Stillman, prompting Brandon Gignac to come to his aid but also taking an extra penalty on the play. On the ensuing power play Trudeau was called for a trip and Kulich converted on the five-on-three advantage.
Then, we witnessed something truly rare.
Lucas Condotta was being called for goaltender interference, but the Rocket hadn’t controlled the puck yet as the Americans got the extra skater out on the ice. Mann made a huge save and Filip Cederqvist went to centre the rebound from behind the net. Instead he fired it the entire length of the ice, and into Rochester’s empty net. Because Mann was the last Rocket player to contact the puck, he was credited with his first career goal.
Rochester wasn’t feeling overly cheerful after the goal against, and ended the period by continuing their driving assault on the Rocket net, but Mann held the fort as the horn sounded. Despite the scoreline, it was Mann that prevented it from becoming an insurmountable deficit in the first 20 minutes while also being responsible for Laval’s only offence.
Despite drawing an early penalty in the second period, the Rocket’s poor luck continued to haunt them. Joel Armia went to enter the offensive zone on the power play, and had his stick broken at the blade on a slash, leaving him defenceless. The officials didn’t call the slash and the Americans converted the two-on-zero that followed to make it a three-goal lead early in the middle frame.
Rochester, despite its lead, started to unravel and sent Laval right back to the power play following their goal. This time Armia made the advantage count as he stepped into a centring pass from Mitchell Stephens and fired a rocket by Devin Cooley to cut the Americans’ lead down to two goals.
Not even 40 seconds later, Justin Richards took a high run at Trudeau, putting Laval right back out on the man advantage with a chance to turn the game on its head quickly. The Rocket nearly made the Amerks pay for it again, with Philippe Maillet clanging a shot off the crossbar, but Rochester was able to survive from there, keeping it a two-goal game.
It was all Rocket as the period chugged on, setting up a strong cycle inside the Rochester zone and forcing Cooley to be incredibly sharp as they tried to cut into the lead. A few close chances, including a near-side shot from Joshua Roy, nearly made it a one-goal game, but the Rocket entered the final period needing a big effort to earn a point.
Laval got the near-perfect start that it needed, cutting the deficit to a single goal just over two minutes in. Lias Andersson grabbed a loose puck behind the net and passed it to Simoneau, who set up shop on the end boards. Simoneau put the puck back to Andersson, who fed it to Lucas Condotta in front of goal.
It continued to be all Laval following Condotta’s goal, with Riley Kidney getting himself into the action in a big way. Unfortunately for the rookie forward he was robbed twice by Devin Cooley in tight, first on an odd-man rush and then by a sprawling save and the crossbar. The pressure eventually drew another call during a period of four-on-four, and the Rocket had a golden chance in front of them with 13 minutes left to play.
Rochester was able to survive the Rocket’s man advantage, but Laval was still in firm control of things, with Mattias Norlinder nearly fooling Cooley with a shot through traffic as the penalty expired. It continued to be the Cooley show as the minutes wore on, with him robbing Maillet on the doorstep with a desperation blocker save.
The breakthrough finally came for Laval, as they found a crack in Cooley’s armour. Andersson broke in, firing a shot off of Cooley’s helmet that bounced to Maillet. The forward kicked the rebound toward the net, and Stephens poked it by the leg pad and tied the fame with around five minutes left to play.
The Rocket didn’t make the end of regulation easy, however, with Logan Mailloux sitting for holding and then Nathan Légaré following up his exit with an immediate penalty of his own. Mann stood tall for a nervy final few minutes, and the Rocket managed to steal at least one point after being down by three goals earlier in the game.
With a power play in overtime, the Rocket were not able to convert on their golden opportunity and things turned quickly against them. As the Americans broke out, Mailloux went to play the body and the puck went by him into the Laval zone. Rochester rang two straight shots off the crossbar to put the Rocket in disarray, but it appeared the puck hit the netting as well. With the Rocket pausing for a second as a result, Kulich walked into the slot and scored his third of the night to seal a second point for Rochester.
Final Score: Rochester 5, Laval 4 (OT)
Laval will get a chance for revenge on Friday night when the Americans step back onto the Place Bell ice with a 7:00 PM puck drop.