Rocket, Amerks ready to go right back to work

Photo: Vitor Munhoz/NHLI via Getty Images

📝 by Patrick Williams

The Rochester Americans have very little time to make needed adjustments. The Laval Rocket have very little time to bask in their victory.

After the Rocket delivered a 6-1 win last night’s opener of the North Division Finals, Game 2 loomed roughly 21 hours away for the teams tonight (7 ET, AHLTV, RDS).

On Thursday, the Amerks were celebrating winning their North Division semifinal series against the Utica Comets, a five-game battle in which they had eliminated the Eastern Conference regular-season champion and one of their fiercest rivals.

But the Calder Cup Playoffs demand being able to quickly adjust to new challenges and setbacks along with those victories.

Said Rochester defenseman Casey Fitzgerald after Sunday’s loss, “We’ve just got a lot of work to do and a lot of video to watch. It’s frustrating, but you want to turn the page in this series. You’ve got to turn the page if you want to win, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

While the Amerks also lost Game 1 in the last round against Utica, they find themselves facing a much different opponent in the Rocket. Last night, Laval broke open a 1-1 game with three second-period strikes in a 6:12 span that left Rochester stumbling.

“They’re a very tenacious team,” Rochester head coach Seth Appert said after the loss. “They’re just relentless in their pressure. They’re kind of a buzzsaw. They’re always on you. They’re always putting you in uncomfortable situations, and I thought that collectively in the second period our puck decisions and our puck battles weren’t good enough, and that just fed their offense.”

There is more than one way to win in the American Hockey League, and the Amerks find themselves having to adjust to Laval’s approach on the fly. While Utica and the Belleville Senators, Rochester’s opening-round opponent, operated with a grinding, physical style, Laval’s success comes via speed and pace.

“They do pose different challenges,” Appert said. “They’re faster. They’re just way faster. They put you in some more uncomfortable positions. They try to get two, three forwards behind you all the time. So there’s a lot of things that they do very well from a speed and competitiveness standpoint that are different than the two teams we’ve just played.”

Fitzgerald and Jimmy Schuldt were among the Rochester defensemen trying to fend off those incoming Laval forwards for much of the night.

“It’s difficult,” Schuldt said of adjusting to a different style of opponent. “But that’s playoffs, right? You’re not going to keep playing the same style of team. It’s always going to be different every single round. Belleville is different than Utica. They’re both different than Laval.

“I think we knew their game, and we were still a little bit behind and unfortunately surprised by it… which we shouldn’t be, obviously.”

For the Rocket, head coach J-F Houle has stressed – repeatedly – the need for a steady, calm demeanor. He quickly moved on after the Rocket eliminated the Syracuse Crunch in the teams’ five-game North Division semifinal series, and he did so again after Sunday night’s win.

Win or lose, Houle’s demeanor does not waver much. His players are preaching those same words, too.

“Never too high, never too low,” said Rocket forward Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, whose pretty move along the left boards set up Cédric Paquette’s goal that gave Laval a 4-1 lead. “Tonight we had the high, but we have to reset and come out the way we played in the second and third [periods].”

Once again, the Rocket played in front of a sellout crowd of 10,043 at Place Bell, their third in as many games this postseason. Tonight provides another opportunity to impress those fans before the teams travel to Rochester for Game 3 on Wednesday.

“Our crowd was just amazing,” Houle said. “They really give us a lot of energy. It’s really fun to play in this building.”