For the first time in 161 days, the Abbotsford Canucks hit the ice on Friday evening to open their 2023-24 campaign. They did so in front of a sold out Place Bell, where the Laval Rocket awaited for the ninth all time meeting between Abbotsford and Laval.

Friday saw the first time that several players suited up for Abbotsford, with the list featuring Aidan McDonough, Matt Irwin, Cole McWard and Nikita Tolopilo. It would be McDonough and McWard’s first AHL game, while it was a familiar face in Artūrs Šilovs who got the nod from Jeremy Colliton in net.

In the opposing crease, Jakub Dobes defended the net for Laval in what was his professional debut.

The first period opened up with a flurry of scoringat both ends, starting with Joel Armia breaking the deadlock less than three minutes into the contest. His go-ahead effort was quickly cancelled out by Vasily Podkolzin, who rifled the puck between Dobes and the post for a powerplay tally. The opportunity was created with a quick play by Arshdeep Bains in the corner to free up Podkolzin in the left faceoff circle.

Joshua Roy would put Laval back in front just after the midway mark of the period, and it looked like it would stay that way heading into the first intermission. However, a charging Arshdeep Bains crashed the net before sliding the puck over to Nils Åman who jammed it into the goal.

Bains and Wolanin’s multi-point first periods set up a 2-2 scoreline after 20 minutes, with Laval ahead in the shot count 11-8.

Artūrs Šilovs kept the game all square in the opening moments of the second, producing a massive toe save to deny the home team from gaining the lead for the third time.

The Canucks would be the next team to break the deadlock, and they ran with it with three goals in four minutes at the midway mark of the frame.

The momentum shift started from a Jack Rathbone slapshot from the point, flying past Dobes and nestled just inside the top right corner. McWard picked up a secondary assist on the play, his first in the AHL. Bains grabbed the other helper, which was already his third of the night.

Abbotsford’s fourth of the night came from the stick of Linus Karlsson, who lead the Canucks in goals and rookie scoring last season. Max Sasson jumped on a fanned pass by Laval’s William Trudeau from behind the Rocket net. Instantly spinning with the puck, Sasson laid the puck perfect onto Karlsson’s stick who was waiting in the slot. His quick fire effort doubled the Canucks’ lead, boosting the score line to 4-2.

Vasily Podkolzin would grab one more before the break, as Sheldon Dries intercepted a pass and chipped the puck along the boards for Tristen Nielsen. Nielsen dropped the puck behind him to Podkolzin, who slotted home his second of the night, and Abbotsford’s fifth.

Podkolzin’s second tally would be the final action that Dobes saw on the evening, as Strauss Mann came on to replace the goaltender.

The period soon came to a close with Abbotsford holding a commanding 5-2 lead after 40 minutes.

Laval’s Brandon Gignac opened his goalscoring account in the opening minutes of the third, only for Arshdeep Bains to re-establish the three goal lead.

Jett Woo let fly an excellent streaking pass to Nils Åman, who tipped it forward to Bains who barreled towards Mann. Bains snuck the puck between the netminder’s pads, for what would be an AHL career high fourth point of the night.

Despite Joel Armia again cutting the deficit down to two, Abbotsford’s John Stevens sealed the game in the final minute with a short handed, empty net goal.

Stevens, who lead the AHL in shorthanded goals in 2021-22, capped off an impressive attacking display, with the final score landing at 7-4 in favour of the visiting Canucks.

Artūrs Šilovs turned aside 27 of the 31 shots he faced, while AHL debutant McWard finished with a pair of assists. Five Canucks in total registered multiple points, with Christian Wolanin, Åman, and Podkolzin joining Bains and McWard on that list.

These two teams will meet again on Saturday, with the puck dropping from Place Bell at 12:00pm PST. The game will be free to watch on AHLTV as part of the site’s Opening Weekend Free Preview.

Following Saturday’s game, Abbotsford will return home for their own Home Opener on Friday, October 20th, where they’ll face the Calgary Wranglers at 7:00pm on Friday and Saturday night.

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