Another week has come and gone for the Montreal Canadiens’ ECHL affiliate, as the Trois-Rivières Lions split a weekend series against the Maine Mariners — the affiliate of the Boston Bruins — in Portland.
The two NHL-contracted players on the Lions roster, Cam Hillis and Arsen Khisamutdinov, were not available for the Trois-Rivières team for various reasons. In Hillis’ case, he was the lucky beneficiary of causality when Ryan Poehling was called up to the Canadiens. As for Khisamutdinov, he continues to have visa issues that won’t allow him to travel to the United States, as was the problem for the team’s first road trip of the season. Khisamutdinov was placed in a reserve slot in order to not take up a roster spot for the road trip.
The other reserve spot was given to Jean-François David, the defenceman who was signed to a contract a week prior at the urging of former teammate and current team general manager, Marc-André Bergeron. A few days later David was released from his contract.
Goaltender Philippe Desrosiers returned from his call-up to the Manitoba Moose where he posted a win in his only start, necessitating the release of Carmine-Anthony Pagliarulo who was with the team for last week’s games. Alexis D’Aoust remains with the Belleville Senators as the team deals with the fallout of a massive COVID-19 outbreak in their parent club in Ottawa.
Finally, defenceman Terrance Amorosa was loaned by the Laval Rocket to the Lions because he played just one game so far this season and this move will allow him to get some minutes.
Friday night: Lions 8-7 (OT)
If you like goals, then this was an all-timer for you. Both teams combined for 15 goals as the Lions offence emerged from its cocoon. Inversely, defence took a nap, making for an entertaining game. Mariners’ play-by-play sportscaster Michael Keeley said it best as overtime was about to start: “If you’re just joining us, boy, that’s a mistake.”
So, what exactly happened? Did everyone forget how to defend? Hard to say, but it’s not certain that this game is worth reviewing by the coaches and best left to be an aberration. The Lions quickly scored three goals on eight shots and were seemingly ready to run away with the game, but the offence started going the other way. By the time the first period was over eight goals were scored on 29 shots in total with the Lions holding a 5-3 lead.
Shawn St-Amant scored early in the second period before Mariners forward Lewis Zerter-Gossage decided to level up. Zerter-Gossage scored four straight goals in an unbelievable performance that included a natural hat trick in the second period to tie the game at 6-6, and the go-ahead goal in the third period for his fifth goal of the game.
It took a last-minute tying goal from Olivier Archambault to rescue the game for the Lions, and send to overtime after fourteen goals.
Desrosiers will certainly want to leave this game past him, but there was the matter of the extra frame to play. The overtime period was mostly dominated by Maine, but all it takes is one shot, and it was Peter Abbandonato who completed the first hat trick in Lions history, giving the Lions their first win streak at the same time.
Sunday night: Mariners 4-3
The second game of the series was a much tighter affair than the first with the Mariners dominating.
Flip puck to a Maine player who was breaking out of the Mariners zone. Charles-David Beaudoin saw the play developing but just couldn’t catch up to Patrick Shea who score his first pro goal. Midway through the second period, it was 3-0 Maine and the game seemed like it would never tip in the Lions favour as they were unable to generate any offence.
Since the ECHL only allows 16 skaters per game, the Lions’ line-up was made up of 10 forwards and six defencemen. So that’s just three lines and a spare forward. Head coach Eric Belanger’s strategy was to alternate line usage per period, so the third line centred by Montminy wasn’t seen much in the first period but definitely saw heavy usage in the second period, opposite to the Abbandonato line. But it’s the Abbandonato line that put the Lions on the board late in the second to at least fire up the team as they headed to the locker room.
There was a scary moment early in the third as Olivier Galipeau was pushed from behind while racing towards the boards, resulting in him crashing extremely hard into the boards chest first. He stayed on his knee for a while, but thankfully left under his own strength and eventually returned to the bench.
Rookie forward Cédric Desruisseaux had three points on the night, including being credited with a goal to get the Lions within one goal, and an assist to again bring the game to within one as the Mariners scored to regain a two-goal advantage. I say credited with a goal, because Desruisseaux was on the bench at the time of the goal, and it was Cédric Montminy who scored, but the official ECHL stat keepers just whiffed on that one. Montminy would add a second goal later in the period, his ‘first’ of the game. The Lions pushed hard in the end to tie the game but were unable to find the equalizer as they did the game before.
So, after eight games played, the Lions are sitting in fifth place in the division with six points. It’s certainly too early to start to worry as there is a lot of hockey left to play, but there are early indications that the Newfoundland Growlers are definitely the powerhouse team in the division and will easily separate themselves from the pack. The Lions have a big opportunity to gain some points as they play last-place Worcester Railers three times next week — Wednesday at home and then on the road Friday and Saturday. But beware of taking the Railers likely, as their last five games were against the two best teams in the league, the Florida Everblades and Growlers, and they only picked up three out of 10 points.