Reassigned just yesterday to the Rochester Americans (42-21-4-2) from the parent Buffalo Sabres, second-year forward Tage Thompson surely did not disappoint in his Amerks debut as the newcomer erupted for a pair of goals to go along with an assist to lead Rochester to a 4-2 win over the North Division rival Laval Rocket (28-29-6-6) Friday at The Blue Cross Arena.
Along with the win, which gave Rochester a 9-2-0-0 record in its last 11 meetings with the Rocket, the Amerks moved within one point of the Syracuse Crunch for the AHL’s North Division lead. The team has also earned 44 out of a possible 64 points in its last 32 games going into the final game of March.
While Thompson tallied his first three-point outing of his pro career, Sean Malone and Danny O’Regan finished off the scoring for the Amerks, who now need just a single point to officially clinch a spot in the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs. With O’Regan’s 20th goal of campaign, Rochester became the first team in the league to have five different players reach the mark and first Amerks team since the 2000-01 season, which included head coach Chris Taylor. In his third game in as many games, goaltender Adam Wilcox made 17 saves to improve to 12-8-4 on the season.
Alex Belzile notched a pair of goals for his 10th multi-point effort of the season for the Rocket while rookie defenseman Jake Evan chipped in two assists for the 10th time of the slate. In his career-high 26th appearance of the year, netminder Michael McNiven stopped 31 of the 34 shots he faced but was dealt with a losing effort.
A little more than eight minutes after Laval tied the game at two 29 seconds into the final period of regulation, Thompson redirected a point shot from Arvin Atwal, who also made his first appearance of the year with Rochester, from the right face-off dot.
Andrew MacWilliam was also awarded an assist on the goal at the 8:37 mark.
“It feels good to get the win and help offensively,” Thompson said. “Two days with these guys, most of whom I know from the summer and at various points of the season, I would say it has been a great start so far.”
“It’s a great group of guys and they are very easy to play with,” added Thompson. “The culture here is really special and I’m glad I can contribute to the group.”
The teams clamped down defensively, and it remained a one-goal game for the last 12 minutes of regulation until Thompson capped off the 4-2 win as he fired a shot the length of the ice and into the vacant Laval net.
Nathan Paetsch got credited for his first point of the year while Kevin Porter also recorded an assist on the tally.
Malone opened the scoring as he tucked in his fourth goal of the season on a delayed penalty from Brandon Hickey and Jack Dougherty, but Laval tied the contest before the end of the first period.
“I thought we responded well to a little bit of a slower start,” said Hickey, who led all defensemen with three shots. “We started to make their D turn and open some lanes behind them. It seemed to give us some open chances later in the game and we were able to capitalize.”
In the second period, in which Rochester dominated the Rocket with a 20-1 shot-advantage, the Amerks reclaimed their one-goal cushion as O’Regan stepped out from the right corner with the puck and blasted a shot inside the top-right corner with 2:08 left in the frame. Remi Elie and Thompson picked up assists on the power-play marker.
“On the power-play, guys were battling for the puck and made it to the weak side,” O’Regan explained. “It’s the play we work on and I had a lane so I just shot the puck. We have talked before when we have success, it has been from just shooting pucks.”
The Rocket were awarded a holding infraction as the middle frame expired and they needed only 31 seconds into the carryover penalty as Belzile evened the contest at two before Thompson added a pair, including the empty-netter to give the Amerks a 4-2 win.
“I thought our second and third periods were good,” Taylor said. “Our second period was really good as I thought we were skating on pucks, we were getting a lot of chances and we kept building on that over the last two periods.”