The Trois-Rivières Lions benefitted from some stability since the beginning of the season, however, the ECHL is well-known for almost daily tweaks to the roster as injuries at higher levels necessitate call-ups. Sure enough, there were some personnel changes to be expected for the Lions as they embarked on the second week of the season.
The most important changes were the departure of Alexis D’Aoust, the Lions leading scorer, who signed a PTO with the Belleville Senators, and goaltender Philippe Desrosiers who was recalled to the Manitoba Moose.
With departures come the necessary additions. Carmine-Anthony Pagliarulo was brought back to act as backup goaltender after a long tryout with the Lions during training camp. The Lions also signed 20-year-old French forward Pierrick Dubé, who earlier refused to report to the Drakkar de Baie-Comeau in the QMJHL. He previously spent three seasons with the Québec Rempart under Patrick Roy and current Laval Rocket assistant coach Martin Laperrière, and decided that going pro in the ECHL was better for his career at this point.
Then came the curious signing of 39-year-old defenceman Jean-Francois David who had been retired for five seasons. It turned out that he was an old teammate of Marc-André Bergeron who convinced him to come out of retirement. Surely David’s three seasons of experience as an assistant coach in the QMJHL could also offer some leadership, but the team assured us that he is simply there in a player’s role and not a player/coach role. He was placed on reserve because the team can only carry 21 players.
The opponents for the Lions this weekend were the Philadelphia Flyers’ ECHL affiliate, the Reading Royals, who sat in the second grouping of teams in division rankings behind the undefeated Newfoundland Growlers.
Earlier in the week, it was said that Shawn St-Amant would be taking an indeterminate leave from the team for personal reasons, but he was thankfully in the lineup. Curiously missing was Arsen Khisamutdinov, who the previous week had some work visa issues that prevented him from traveling with the team to Portland. Turns out that he was a healthy scratch, as head coach Eric Belanger was not satisfied with his effort levels away from the puck in the games thus far and wanted to send a message.
The Lions dominated the first period, but a useless penalty to Cédric Montminy for cross-checking in front of the Royals net turned the tide. Shortly after the Lions killed the penalty, an errant flip to the net slipped past Kevin Poulin — who looked bad on the play — to give Reading a 1-0 lead. The Royals would add to their lead when a rush up-ice by Olivier Archambault led to a cross-ice pass to a streaking St-Amant who ably backhanded the puck five-hole on goaltender Pat Nagle, sending the 3,300 fans at the Colisée to their feet.
The second period started poorly, as Julien Nantel ran right into the referee while covering his player, leaving the Royal player wide open in the slot for a screened shot that beat Poulin to again give the Royals a two-goal cushion.
With the second period winding down, the floodgates opened for the Lions. An innocuous offensive zone play led to a point shot by Mathieu Brodeur hitting the post, and the ensuing scramble led the puck to Anthony Nellis who was stationed at the goalmouth for the easy tap-in.
Less than a minute later, Peter Abbandonato won an offensive zone face-off and proceeded to the net where he shook off his coverage just as defenceman Guillaume Beaudoin lasered the puck from the boards onto an awaiting Abbandonato slapshot into an open net. Suddenly the game was tied at 3-3, and the Lions carried that momentum to the third period where they came out buzzing as Abbandonato and St-Amant were very close to giving the Lions the lead.
A weak backhand early in the period slipped through Poulin to give the Royals the lead for good. It was the second goal of the night that squeaked past Poulin, who had a good night overall and was controlling rebounds much better than the previous week. Still, those two goals made the difference on Friday night.
A couple of lineup changes happened for the second game with Khisamutdinov returning , Cam Hillis being bumped up to centre the top line, and Anthony Nellis dropping to the second line. Montminy was dropped to the third line, as he has thus far provided tussle and muscle, but not much on the scoresheet.
Like the previous night, the Lions outrageously dominated the Royals in puck possession and shots on goal but, once again, the Royals struck first on a wraparound by former Rocket player Thomas Ebbing, who put the Royals up 1-0 on their only shot of the period eight minutes in. Despite the outrageous shot advantage, the Lions had to wait until the 15th minute to finally score on Nagle, when Khisamutdinov tied it up by accepting a net-front pass from Nellis.
The shots were 18-1 after one period but Reading came back charging in the second period, scoring on yet another wraparound attempt on Poulin. But the story of this game was that the Lions would tie the game three times before it went into overtime and shootouts. Archambault scored a solo beauty by driving down the wing and crossing in front of the net, taking the punishment before putting the puck past Nagle.
Reading would take the lead once again, this time in the third period when the Lions finally conceded a power-play goal. Their penalty kill was perfect thus far this season, but it was inevitable that they would eventually allow one.
What was also inevitable was that rookie Justin Ducharme was going to score a goal. Ducharme played a heck of a game, collecting three points and earning the first star of the game for his effort. Ducharme’s progress will be interesting to follow as he is growing before our very eyes, improving game to game.
The Lions would eventually go on to win the shootout, their first home game in franchise history in front of over 3,000 fans, with Ducharme and Hillis being the only ones able to beat the Royals goaltender after five rounds. Poulin stopped four shooters, capping off his bipolar night of spectacular saves and lackluster tracking.
Wrapping it all up
Generally speaking, the Lions proved that they cannot only hang with a team that is higher in the standings than they are but outright dominate the play. However, one thing is evident and it’s that the Lions do not have a game-breaker on the roster, but a team full of hard workers who probably deserve a better record than their 2-4-0 would indicate. There still needs to be another gear in many of the team’s offensive players in order to earn those wins that are within reach every game. After six games, four players are tied for the team lead with two goals each.
The Lions' next games are Friday and Sunday in Portland against the Maine Mariners.