LAVAL – A few minutes after the scheduled start of training for the Laval Rocket on Monday morning, Jesse Ylönen trained with only a dozen pucks as partners.
Well settled in the face-off circle to the left of his goal, Ylönen repeated the same kind of shot with which he had scored his first goal of the play-offs two days earlier in Syracuse. Moments later, the Finn changed tactics. Rather than let go of his scorching slapshot, he systematically held back his gesture and headed for his target before turning, backing up, then directing a lifted pass to an imaginary teammate at the mouth of the net.
“No idea. I’ve never seen him do that,” his coach Jean-François Houle replied with a grin when asked if he knew what was going through his attacker’s mind during this unusual simulation.
The ride was short lived. No one eventually joined Ylönen on the spotless, icy surface. Early in the morning, Houle had decided to deviate from his original plan and announced to his players that they would not train for the second day in a row.
The official return to work in anticipation of the third game of the series between the Rocket and the Tampa Bay Lightning school club will not take place until Tuesday.
“It is certain that we take the holiday season into the series with open arms, Joël Teasdale did not hide. It is very important to be able to rest well, maybe not practice too much and have some energy left for the competitions. In the playoffs, you need to know the game plan and game strategies, so it’s just managing the energy to prepare for the game. †
“We play tight, physical hockey and rest is very important to me,” confirms Houle to justify his decision. That’s why we took an extra day today to let the players’ bodies rest. In the months of February, March and even April we had a fairly busy schedule. The past three months have not been easy for us. Power management is very important right now. †
Could Houle’s good intentions turn against him and his flock? Does the Rocket coach want to protect his men too much from the rigors of spring hockey, at the risk of taking them out of some sort of routine that is usually so dear to them?
It’s because the American League schedule already provided the Rocket and their opponents with a great opportunity to catch their breath. After the win that saw the residents of Laval draw the series 1-1 on Saturday, the two teams will not meet again until Thursday.
Besides, despite his supposed penchant for recovery, Houle is the first to admit that in an ideal world, his lucky tie wouldn’t have stayed in the closet for so long.
“Especially if you win and you have a bit of the momentum, do you want to continue with this. But on the other hand, it allows us to rest a little and recover from our little sores. I think it’s good to play again as soon as possible, but we’ll be prepared for anything. Two good training days and we are ready for the game. †
Alex Belzile, who scored three goals in the first two games of the series, would also have caught up earlier had he had a say in the weekly schedule. But after waiting four years to play his first playoff game at Place Bell, it’s not a few days that will bother him anymore.
“I’m not bad fussy on that side. Tell me the date we’re going to play and we’ll make sure we’re ready. †
Belzile explains his gesture
Belzile may have just played his first playoff games in the American League, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have experience in the trenches.
In the juniors, St-Éloi pride scored 43 points in 38 playoff games over three years with the Rimouski Oceanic. In the ECHL, he twice won the Kelly Cup awarded to champions of playoff tournaments. In 2020, he also made his place in the Canadiens’ lineup for six games of the Canadiens’ unlikely course.
At the end of the week, the old fox reminded everyone of his love for big games by scoring three goals. We also saw him pull a rabbit out of his hat after the third of those goals gave the Rocket a 2-1 lead in Saturday’s second period.
After taking advantage of a reversal from Rémi Elie in Crunch territory to thwart Maxime Lagacé, Belzile took off his right glove and pointed his finger at the sky before slamming his palm against the bay window. Who was the message intended for and what was its meaning? Colleague Andrée-Anne Barbeau took part of the answer from her on Monday.
“It was just a player on the other side who had that party in the first game. I know from the media point of view, sometimes we don’t realize everything that happens in a series like that. These are emotional shows, there are not friends, you go to war and you do everything to disturb and be in charge, just to have a little side† I wasn’t going to do that, it was just the emotion. I am a very emotional player. I don’t know, I thought it was the right thing to do. †