LAVAL - The Rocket started off their inaugural season in Laval in style, winning a pair of games against the Belleville Senators in their first action since the Canadiens moved their AHL affiliate from Saint John's, NL.
After treating the raucous home crowd to a 3-0 shutout win in their home opener on October 6, the Rocket beat Belleville 6-2 the next night.
The following weekend against the Binghamton Devils, Laval trailed 4-2, 6-3 and 7-5 at various points in the game before Daniel Audette tied the game with under three minutes to play before Daniel Carr completed a hat trick to win it in overtime. Chris Terry also scored a hat trick in the win.
The Rocket finally lost their first game the next night in a 5-1 decision against the Devils.
- The Rocket have scored 18 goals since the start of the season, tops in the 30-team League
- Defenseman Matt Taormina is tied for the lead among AHL defensemen with seven points (1G, 6A) and is the Rocket's top scorer
- Chris Terry and Nikita Scherbak each have six points, also placing them among the top 15 in AHL scoring
- At 3-1-0, the Rocket are in third place in the North division with six points
Laval players have consistently expressed their pleasure with their new digs and the atmosphere they're treated to on home ice. But what can really make it or break it is what happens behind closed doors, and in the early goings there, the reviews are spectacular.
"So far, it's been awesome. The fact that the locker room, the building, the coaching staff, the players - everything together makes it really fun to come to the rink. I've missed that," confided defenseman Eric Gelinas, who split last season between the Colorado Avalanche and their AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. "Player-wise, everyone is really cool to chat with, everyone gets along and the team is good. It's fun to come and win some games."
Centerman Daniel Audette concurs that the team is gelling well as of yet.
"The guys are starting to really get along," the 21-year-old confirmed. "We're developing a good chemistry. I think that's the most important thing when starting the season."
Close to home
Being so close to the big club has been a boon for the players in terms of what's available to them resource-wise.
"We have our skills coach, "Bordy" [Sebastien Bordeleau] around way more. He lives right here and he's around almost every day, watching video with us too," explained German-born forward Markus Eisenschmid. "Management is here all the time. Everyone is watching the game. You get feedback way more often. There are way more people watching you. It's definitely better for your development."
Head coach Sylvain Lefebvre believes that having so many eyes on the players can only be a good thing, as it gives them a chance to get noticed by the powers that be.
"When you're a young player trying to make it, when you know you're being watched and evaluated by management, it means a lot to them," explained Lefebvre. "Some people see it as pressure, but I see it as an opportunity to show them what you can do and that you're ready to go up."
Lefebvre understands that the proximity to the spotlights in Montreal might result in some added expectations from the fans, but believes it's also a learning opportunity for the young future Canadiens.
"There's always pressure; athletes put pressure on themselves to do well and perform. They want to make it to the NHL. [Being in Laval], there is a little bit of added pressure, but for them to be recognized at restaurants and grocery stores, they'll feel exactly the same when they do make the team in Montreal. I don't see it as pressure, but as an opportunity to get to be known more by the fans."
For his part, Audette is soaking it all in and embracing the attention.
"It's a lot of fun to come to the rink and see how excited everyone is to be there. After the game, we had an autograph session and everyone was nice and appreciative," praised Audette. "We get recognized at restaurants from time to time. We stay in the area, so they're aware of what's going on."
Rookie forward Antoine Waked, who made the jump from Junior to the AHL this year, has been enjoying his new surroundings, and believes the fans have helped boost his squad into the win column.
"We're really impressed, the building is incredible," said the former Rouyn-Noranda Husky, who scored 39 goals and added 41 assists in 67 games in the QMJHL last season. "The last two weekends at home there's been a really good atmosphere, so we're really happy. We know it's going to to keep going."
Canadiens.com will periodically feature an update on the Laval Rocket. Stay tuned for the second part of this first report, which will be published ahead of their first road trip of the season later this week.