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Michael McNiven just wants to play as Rocket crease gets crowded

McNiven and Connor LaCouvee combine for 22 saves in 2-1 overtime loss to Belleville.

NHL: FEB 02 Devils at Canadiens Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Even if Charlie Lindgren gets claimed on waivers Monday, the crop of goaltenders available to the Rocket may still be too crowded for Michael McNiven.

“If you’re a backup you only get to see the net so much already. So when you’re in practice, if you want to get any better you need the net yourself,” McNiven said. “I just want to play hockey. I want to have fun this year. I felt the last two years for me has been a struggle from that part of my game. Was in shape last year, but the way the season went it wasn’t really fun for the whole group.”

The 22-year-old shared the net with Connor LaCouvee in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Belleville Senators Sunday afternoon. McNiven entered the game in the second period and did his best to keep his team in the game by being perfect in regulation. Despite allowing the overtime-winner, McNiven made 14 saves on 15 shots.

“I think as an all-around group, I’m happy. The D and the forwards helped me a lot tonight,” McNiven said. “We were communicating a lot back there when I was playing the puck so that made my life easier even though I only had to touch it a couple of times.”

If goaltender Charlie Lindgren clears waivers Monday at noon, Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard will have four goaltenders in his stable. The Montreal Canadiens waived the 25-year-old, along with Charles Hudon, Sunday afternoon. While McNiven got his opportunity to play this weekend, it wasn’t the same as Cayden Primeau’s, who played the entirety of Saturday’s game against Belleville despite allowing five goals in a 5-2 loss.

“I think that’s up to what Montreal thinks about it,” McNiven said when asked if he had done enough to stick around with Laval this season. “I just have to work hard, whether it’s in the gym, on the ice, or in a game. Like I said before, when I get my opportunities I need to make the most of them.”

But what if the Rocket carry three or more goalies on their roster for the season?

“Personally, it’s not my thing,” McNiven said.

“It all depends on your situation and where you’re at and how the big club is, too,” Bouchard said. “There’s one thing with the American Hockey League: it’s a lot of moving parts. I’ve seen AHL teams with four goalies last year, for different situations.”

Bouchard understands McNiven is trying to get as much playing time as he can as he fights for an opportunity.

“I respect Michael,” Bouchard said. “We all know that. The player doesn’t need to come tell management ‘I want to play.’ We all know they want to play. They’re professional, they train all summer. I thought he did really good tonight in the game. There’s an improvement last year from the year before.

“Everybody’s taking care of their own career. I think they’re all professional about it. We try to respect that. That’s for Michael and for everybody else.”

McNiven says he and Lindgren have a great relationship, but he’s ready to fight for his chance in the Rocket net.

“It’s going to be a dogfight until the end,” McNiven said. “Just got to keep working hard every day.”

Laval’s season-opener will be Friday evening against the Cleveland Monsters at 7:30 PM at Place Bell. The two sides will also play Saturday afternoon in the same venue at 3:00 PM.