In week four of the ECHL calendar, the Lions de Trois-Rivières faced the Worcester Railers three times, once at their home Colisée, and then a weekend series in Massachusetts. A single opponent over the span of a week is not unusual in the ECHL, as it helps to reduce travel costs for the smaller-budget league.
Arsen Khisamutdinov continues to have work-visa issues that prevent him from traveling with the team to the U.S. It’s a second consecutive challenge-filled season for the Russian. The Montreal Canadiens confirmed that they are responsible for arranging all work visas for their contracted players, but they admit that it has been especially difficult to arrange work visas for their Russian players as they need to go in-person to an American consulate in either Ottawa or Toronto, and that lineups have been significant as a result of the global pandemic. As for why Alexander Romanov had his work visa sorted and could travel to the U.S., and Khisamutdinov hadn’t, could have come down to “priority.” It is expected that it will be several weeks still before Khisamutdinov will have all his paperwork complete and can travel with the team. He will likely miss the marquee trip to Florida in early December.
Another interesting piece of news to come out this week is the potential involvement of Lions goaltender Philippe Desrosiers with Team Canada this year at the Spengler Cup. No confirmation as of yet, but it would be a big opportunity for the goaltender out of the Jets organization.
Alexis D’Aoust meanwhile returned from his stint will the Belleville Senators as the AHL team felt the windfall of the Ottawa Senators closing up shop for a week due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
After a brief passage with the Lions, defenceman Terrance Amorosa was recalled to the Laval Rocket to backfill an injury to Gianni Fairbrother.
Wednesday night, Lions lose 6-2
It was a rough start to the week for the Lions, as Desrosiers was pulled after allowing a fourth goal in the game midway through the second period, and Carmine-Anthony Pagliarulo made his season debut in goal for the Lions.
Olivier Archambault scored a goal with one second left in the second period, to make it 4-1. He was the Lions’ biggest scoring threat all week long. It was during this game that Archambault was promoted to the top line with Abbandonato and St-Amant, where he remained all week, while Khisamutdinov fell out of favour.
Despite the score, the Lions never felt out of this game, and they came out really strong for the third period. The frame was physical, and the Lions continued to have chances and outright control the play.
It all came to an end when captain Cedric Montminy took a horribly timed charging major penalty, which gave the Railers a five-minute power play to completely halt the Lions’ momentum. The Railers scored a fifth goal to put the game out of reach. The hit earned Montminy a one-game suspension as well.
With two minutes left, head coach Eric Belanger pulled his goalie for a six-on-four situation, but sloppy play led to a quick breakout by the Railers for an empty-net goal.
After the game, Belanger was quite direct in his comments to the media, saying that the team just had too many passengers who don’t want to buy into the system, and that something had to change. The loss temporarily left the Lions at the bottom of the division, so obviously the pressure was on. Players weren’t singled out specifically, but certain educated guesses can be made. Top-four defenceman Mathieu Gagnon was a healthy scratch this game, and it’s hard not to draw a straight line.
Friday night, Lions win 4-1
The players responded strongly during the second game of the week. The team iced its youngest lineup to date that included all of their usual rookies, plus Pierrick Dubé, Darick Louis-Jean, and Jonathan Joannette, in the absence of Montminy and Khisamutdinov, while defenceman Alexandre Perron-Fontaine was a scratch for both away games.
After a solid back-and-forth first period where both teams displayed speed to no results, the Lions quickly went ahead on a goal by Dubé in the second. Dubé picked the puck away from a Railer in the neutral zone, allowing Archambault and Abbandonato to convert on a three-on-one tic-tac-toe passing play. It was Dubé’s first goal as a pro, and he has quickly come into his own. He played on the top line for both weekend games.
Gagnon was back in the lineup, and was certainly out to prove himself, sacrificing his body to block a hard slapshot on a Worcester power play in the first period that stung him. After a Railers equalizer in the second period, Gagnon scored what would stand as the game-winning goal, and 20 seconds later defenceman Mathieu Brodeur scored the insurance marker to take the second game with a much more convincing result.
Saturday night, Lions lose 3-1
After a scoreless 35 minutes, where the Lions weathered a storm of Railers chances thanks to Desrosiers’s excellent goaltending, Olivier Archambault scored a goal to give the Lions the lead. However, the sky fell only a minute later as the Railers returned fire with three quick goals in two minutes to end the second period 3-1. It was a nightmarish two minutes as the Lions players simply stopped playing for whatever reason.
The Lions dominated the third period again, controlling the play and refusing to roll over despite a two-goal deficit. Dubé, who played a heck of a game on the top line with Archambault and Abbandonato, missed the best chance of the period for the Lions, as he had a clear tap-in into an empty net on a two-on-one but the puck jumped over his stick.
After the game, Belanger was once again fuming at his players to the media, saying that he couldn’t scratch all the players who deserved it because he needs to ice a full roster. “It will be a rotation until they get the message. This is where I am at.”
Frustration is clearly boiling to the top for the Lions, as they repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot. They control large portions of the game, but sloppy play gifts their opponents goals. I would be remiss not to give credit to the Railers’ goaltenders, Ken Appleby and Colten Ellis, for warding off shot after shot from the Lions during their best stretches.
Cédric Desruisseaux is developing nicely. He was quite timid in his first few games of the season, but he’s now much more active in forecheck pursuit and more implicated in physical board battles. Last season’s QMJHL scoring champion is slowly growing into a professional player with the promise of potential still to be unlocked.
Mathieu Gagnon takes his role as team enforcer seriously, frequently challenging opponents to fights, however he has yet to find any willing combatants. He needs to control his emotions better, and be careful not to take silly misconduct penalties.
Darick Louis-Jean is a very interesting prospect. The rookie defenceman usually joins the rush as a fourth attacker, which usually leads to a scoring opportunity, or at least prolonged offensive-zone possession. It’s clear that he still has a lot of work to do on his skating.
Olivier Archambault certainly displays a lot of talent in his puck handling, but perhaps a big fault in his game is that he tends to hold on to the puck too long, trying to deke everyone rather than pass the puck or make the safe play, leading to many dead plays. He was however the top scorer for the team this week with two goals and two assists.
The Lions now sit last in the division. They play three games at home this week against the Reading Royals before setting off for Florida.
Olivier Archambault (5 goals, 5 assists, 10 points, -1)
Peter Abbandonato (4 goals, 5 assists, 9 points, -7)
Justin Ducharme (4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points, +0)
Philippe Desrosiers (6 games, 3.03 GAA, 0.902 SV%)
Kevin Poulin (5 games, 3.63 GAA, 0.878 SV%)