(Laval) The majority of Laval Rocket fans probably knew nothing about Kasimir Kaskisuo when he signed a contract with the team on December 18. The veteran goalie couldn’t have presented himself in a better way.

In his first start in nearly 10 months, Kaskisuo made 36 saves to guide the Rocket to a 3-2 victory over the Syracuse Crunch on Friday night at Place Bell.

The 30-year-old Finn may have felt ready to return to the net, but the performance itself was almost a miracle.

Kaskisuo had not started a game since March 2, 2023, while playing for Leksands IF in the Swedish Hockey League, and he had not played in the American Hockey League since February 17, 2020 , with the Toronto Marlies.

The least we can say is that he didn’t seem to have lost his rhythm.

“I wanted to be comfortable, play to my strengths and not try to be someone I’m not. You can train however you want, but you have to respond when the pressure is on. It took a long time to get the first shot, but after that it was like getting back on a bike,” observed Kaskisuo.

His mandate is pretty clear: take some pressure off the shoulders of young guards Jakub Dobes and Strauss Mann, who are learning the hard way this season.

With 95 games of experience in the American League and two more in the NHL, Kaskisuo has seen more. And he let that calm shine through when he leaned against the crossbar as the Crunch prepared to orchestrate a counterattack.

“He was calm all evening. I went towards him and he was relaxing near his post. So I told myself I was going to leave him alone. He was sensational for us tonight,” highlighted Arber Xhekaj.

Dobes and Mann’s performances have been somewhat shaky since the start of the season and Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle was keen to explain the benefits of having an experienced goalie between the pipes in this kind of situation.

“You see he has experience. When a goalkeeper makes saves like that and is calm, it makes everyone ahead of him. It buys you time too. And we were able to score the third goal. It’s nothing against Mann and Dobes, they try to learn as much as possible in the league, but you could see that Kaskisuo had experience behind the tie,” said Houle.

Kaskisuo had offensive support from Philippe Maillet, Joshua Roy and Nathan Légaré to allow the Rocket (10-14-5) to beat the Crunch (16-10-4) for a second time in 10 days. Xhekaj had two assists and made his first career AHL fight.

Gabriel Fortier and Gage Goncalves responded for the visitors, who are well established in second place in the North section. They had not lost in regulation time in their last three outings.

Hugo Alnefelt gave up three times in 20 shots for the Tampa Bay Lightning farm club.

The Rocket and the Crunch will battle it out again on Saturday afternoon, again in Laval.

The Rocket started the game with a lot of energy and Emil Heineman got his first scoring opportunity. However, he was unable to beat Alnefelt between the pads.

The Crunch regained momentum after a rather timid start and was the first to move the ropes. During a power play, Fortier skillfully redirected a pass from Goncalves into the top of the net to open the scoring.

The Laval team was able to respond before the end of the first period, and in the same way. Xhekaj’s pass towards Maillet lacked precision, but the attacker managed to take a shot which surprised Alnefelt during his movement.

Leaving the locker room, the Rocket came within centimeters of taking the lead when Xhekaj’s shot beat the Crunch goalkeeper, but not the crossbar behind him.

The intensity and physical play were there in the second half, but both teams were still methodical in their attacks. Kaskisuo notably made two important saves, at the expense of Jack Thompson and Goncalves, to maintain the tie.

His teammates rewarded him with 2:38 left. Xhekaj’s shot hit Nolan Yaremko in front of the net and Roy grabbed the puck before sliding it between Alnefelt’s pads.

At the end of the period, Olivier Galipeau gave Kaskisuo a helping hand by blocking two shorthanded one-timers. The Rocket goaltender was also lucky in the final third, when Tristan Allard missed the target while the cage was completely open.

The Rocket took advantage of this missed opportunity to give themselves a two-goal cushion. Légaré served a cup of coffee to defenseman Max Crozier before slotting the puck into the top of the net.

After several quality saves from Kaskisuo, Goncalves made things interesting late in the match, but it was insufficient.