The two Quebecers have overcome a difficult start to the season and have been playing important roles in recent games
Every Tuesday, our columnist Anthony Marcotte reviews the last week of the Rocket de Laval, as well as the latest news from the American Hockey League. It will allow fans to keep a close eye on what is happening in the lobby of the best hockey league in the world.
The names of Daniel Audette and Antoine Waked have been barely heard since the start of the Montreal Canadiens’ training camp in September. First, the two Quebecers were not used by Claude Julien in the club’s seven preparatory games. A message that spoke volumes about the dissatisfaction with the performance of both players last season and during the training camp.
So the season started off badly for both players. Waked quickly found himself with the Maine Mariners in the ECHL while Audette was unable to score points in her first nine games of the season with the Laval Rocket. Most of the time used on the 4th trio by Joël Bouchard when he was inserted in the formation, Audette was not really able to take the law into her own hands during the first quarter of the year.
We are now at mid-season and suddenly the two strikers are getting more responsibility from their coach. Taking advantage of a few recalls, injuries and lethargic players, Audette and Waked are back in important roles.
The last weekend in Manitoba was a good example. Audette spearheaded the club’s attack on Saturday night in a spectacular 6-5 shootout victory. His two goals and a assist pass as well as the winning shootout net capped off a memorable evening for the Blainville native. As for Waked, his two points equalled his best harvest in a career game in the AHA.
Criticizing the performance of some of his skaters, Bouchard had no choice but to praise the work of his two strikers.
« I have nothing to say against Daniel’s work. He does what I tell him, and it works. He listens. I can say it when he’s not up to it, but right now he’s playing extremely well. It’s the same for Waked. He does as he is asked. Funny, good things happen when you listen to the coach’s instructions. I’m going to make those who are listening play, » Bouchard said categorically on Saturday evening after having nailed Alexandre Grenier, Hayden Verbeek, Michael Pezzetta and David Sklenicka to the bench, among others.
An attentive spectator of Audette’s performances over the past few weeks, particularly on the bridge due to an injury, Charlie Lindgren had nothing but praise for the man who claims 11 points in his last 10 games.
« He is playing with a lot of confidence right now. He has excellent skills. He creates a lot of games in attack. Trust is important for a hockey player and Audette has been lately. He’s a whole player and he’s showing it. »
In the case of Waked, he found himself in an offensive trio for the first time this season during the game on Saturday. Taking Grenier’s place on the second unit with Byron Froese and Nikita Jevpalovs, we saw the Waked again, which was so successful with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies before winning a contract with the Canadians.
« I am very happy to have had the chance to play with Froese and Nikita. We did a good job of defensive work in third grade. We were reliable and kept things simple. To be rewarded like that with two points is good for morale. I play with more confidence and I think my speed and failure before are getting better and better, » he said.
These are things that happen in the American League. You often have to take advantage of other people’s misfortunes to get your chance to shine. Both Audette and Waked have been able to do so in recent weeks. Now they are back in the spotlight.
Charlie Lindgren was the story of the last week at the Rocket. The goalkeeper made his return to the game on Thursday after a long absence of six weeks, the longest in his career. He did not reassure anyone in the team’s 4-0 defeat. As the game progressed, he seemed more troubled by the lower body injury. He finished the game, but it was legitimate to wonder if his name would not be put back on the list of injured.
Then the next day, surprise! Lindgren took part in a rhythmic training session in Winnipeg where he no longer seemed to be bothered at all. The main person concerned did not hide, he will have to deal with the pain in front of his net.
« I feel good enough to play, » he said. The team’s therapists did an excellent job of getting me back. We’ve talked about it a lot and it’s important mentally to feel ready to play. I don’t feel bothered by my net. If you look around the locker room, there is no one playing 100 per cent right now. It’s the same for me. The good news is that I don’t think the pain will get any worse if I keep playing. »
The Rocket has decided to go day by day as far as the use of its guards is concerned. Connor LaCouvee is still in the team’s entourage, he is undefeated in three starts in Laval. Michael McNiven had also done very well in Lindgren’s absence and he will probably get his share of starts soon. A busy schedule awaits the Rocket and he will need his goalkeepers at the top of their game.
We heard a lot of French around the Moose du Manitoba locker room this weekend, and for good reason. Not only are coaches Pascal Vincent and Éric Dubois still there, but a total of six Quebecers are playing in Winnipeg.
« It’s a perfect environment here, » Dubois said Thursday morning. We don’t want to offend anyone by speaking French too often in the locker room, but when we are among Quebecers, we speak French. We really have a good group of guys here. »
The San Diego Gulls are the team of the hour in the AHL these days. And not about that! The Dallas Eakins troop, whose main assistant is Sylvain Lefebvre, has just won its last eight games and claims at least one point in its last 13.
Rocket alumnus Adam Cracknell has been playing very big hockey since his participation in the Spengler Cup. He has seven points in five games since his return. Despite the Rocket’s troubles last year, the veteran had been an example to follow in terms of leadership
Laval’s Simon Benoît caused a surprise by taking a position on the team’s blue line at the age of 20 rather than returning to the QMJHL with the Shawinigan Cataracts. His plus-13 record places him among the top 20 in the circuit in this regard.
Another Quebecer, Alex Dostie, also plays in San Diego, one of the most exotic destinations in the AHA. Too bad the Rocket never visits California during the season….
Joël Bouchard’s quote of the week concerns the arrival of David Schlemko at the Rocket de Laval. The veteran did not break anything in Manitoba with a mention of help and a minus-3 differential. Shot in the hand at the end of the match on Saturday, Schlemko was wearing a bandage after the match. The coach expects the left-handed player to take this return to the American League seriously.
« I just want to make sure he doesn’t play on the heels, because he’s able to make it in the American League. His situation is no different from that of (Kenny) Agostino… Talented veterans will be able to perform in the American League. The goal is that he will be able to do so in the National League if he is ever called upon. »
Every week is important for the Rocket de Laval until the end of the season, as the team is down five points for a spot in the playoffs. But the one coming up with three home games is even more so than the others.
First, the Belleville Senators will visit Place Bell on Wednesday. The two teams share seventh place in the North section with 38 points. Then, the Cleveland Monsters will visit Quebec for the first time on Friday and Saturday as part of a double program.
They’ve had some recent failures with four wins in their last 10 games and have been excluded from the playoffs for the first time this season. They claim 41 points and are in fifth place.
The Rocket will then take the Springfield road on Sunday where it will meet the Thunderbirds next Monday at 1 p. m. You read it right! The match will take place in the early afternoon as is customary in many of the circuit’s markets on this holiday (Martin Luther King) to allow the city’s schools to attend the match. It will certainly be a special atmosphere in the stands.