BRIDGEPORT, CT - Otto Koivula scored his first American Hockey League hat trick on Sunday and propelled the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (14-22-4-1), proud affiliate of the New York Islanders, to a 6-4 win against the Laval Rocket (20-16-3-1) at Webster Bank Arena.
Kieffer Bellows and Nick Schilkey each added one goal and two assists, while Jared Coreau (6-11-1) made 26 saves. It was the most goals the Sound Tigers have scored in a game all season and helped snap the team’s seven-game skid. Ryan Bourque had Bridgeport’s other tally, the club’s second shorthanded goal of the year.
The Sound Tigers stormed out to an early 3-0 lead in the opening 10 minutes with one goal shorthanded, one on the power play, and one at even strength. Bourque kicked it off just 2:03 into the contest with a tally for the second straight night, this time on a wrist shot from the left wing that cleanly beat the reaching glove of rookie goaltender Cayden Primeau. Jeff Kubiak forced the puck to the neutral zone to create the rush, and handed it to Bourque on the left side with Bellows in the box on an early boarding call.
Less than four minutes later, Koivula added a power-play marker to double Bridgeport’s advantage. Bellows guided a pass to Koivula down the right-wing wall and the second-year forward did the rest. He waited and looked before shooting a bank-shot off the back of a Laval skater in front for his fourth of the season. Sebastian Aho also had an assist on the power play goal at the 5:57 mark.
Koivula’s second of the period came at 9:37 on a partial break that resulted in a third straight tally. Schilkey sprung Koivula with a lead pass into Laval territory and Koivula raced onto it and deposited a backhanded shot under Primeau’s pads, which chased him from the game. Keith Kinkaid entered the contest in relief after Primeau made just two saves on five shots.
Alexandre Alain got one back for the Rocket on a Bridgeport turnover at 13:01 of the first period. A pass ahead was stolen by Alain and the Laval forward skated between the circles before collecting his ninth goal of the season. It came on a wrist shot past Coreau’s blocker.
The visitors came out firing in the middle frame, outshooting the Sound Tigers 9-1 in the opening four minutes and making it 3-2 at the 3:35 mark. Robert Carpenter failed to clear the zone and Phil Varone moved to the crease, where he was denied on an outstanding pad save by Coreau. The rebound returned to the front of the net and Riley Barber finished it off for his eighth goal of the season.
Koivula capped his first career hat trick at 9:09 of the second period on a nifty centering pass from Bellows. Schilkey sent a feed to Bellows on the right wing and the latter moved down the wall and appeared to skate behind the net. At the last second, he slipped a pass to the doorstep for Koivula, who buried a one-timer for his sixth goal of the season.
Bellows pushed the Sound Tigers’ lead back to three with his team-leading 15th goal of the season at 11:53 of the second. Immediately following Carpenter’s faceoff win in the right circle, Bellows received the puck and curled in the high slot before snapping a shot past Kinkaid’s glove to make it 5-2.
Laval continued to stay close as the back half wore on. Laurent Dauphin made it 5-3 with a long wrist shot from the point that was deflected by a screen in front and past Coreau at 12:52 of the second. In the third, Varone’s first goal of the season pulled the Rocket to within one at 13:43. Seth Helgeson applied a healthy check to the back of Xavier Ouellet behind the cage, but the puck squirted out to the high slot where Varone launched a forehander past Coreau’s blocker.
A stressful third period included a few more premium chances for the Rocket, but the Sound Tigers earned some insurance and capped the scoring with Schilkey’s empty-netter in the final minute. It was his eighth goal of the season at 19:09.
Bridgeport finished the game 1-for-3 on the power play and 5-for-5 on the penalty kill. The Sound Tigers finished the two-game season series 9-for-9 on the kill, and with a 1-1-0-0 record against the Rocket.
Laval led in shots, 30-23.
Next Time Out: The Sound Tigers return to the road next Friday with a 7:05 p.m. matchup against the Providence Bruins at Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Fans can follow all of the live action via the Sound Tigers Radio Network and AHLTV, beginning with the pre-game show at 6:45 p.m.