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Lions Bites: The roar is mightier than the growl

Trois-Rivières takes four out of a possible six points against the best team in the ECHL.

Teammates congratulating Philippe Desrosiers
Newfoundland Growlers

The Lions de Trois-Rivières spent week six of the ECHL regular-season calendar in Newfoundland, the home of the top team in the entire league, the Newfoundland Growlers, and played three games in three nights. None were easy, but the Lions managed to take an unlikely four out of six points in a classic ECHL version of the Montreal Canadiens versus Toronto Maple Leafs battle.

Player Movement

Prior to the Lions leaving for The Rock, there were several personnel changes to be noted. The biggest piece of news in that regard this past week was the departure of Arsen Khisamutdinov, who agreed to mutually terminate his entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadiens after being suspended by the team.

The 23-year-old has not had the easiest of paths since being drafted by the Canadiens in 2019, spending his first season in North America in the pandemic shortened 2020-21 season with the Laval Rocket, where he had little playing time due to the large roster size. This season he was essentially ignored at the Canadiens training camp, given little attention at the Rocket camp, and was destined to play with the Lions.

He did alright for himself initially, standing out as the team’s best forward in the early games, but his inability to travel with the team to the U.S. really halted any momentum he could muster, while others on the team raised their game. With all the instability, he struggled, and even faced being a healthy scratch a couple of times. The logical conclusion to the situation occured. In 10 games this season, Khisamutdinov scored three goals and added two assists. His KHL rights belong to Avtomobilist.

In addition to losing Khisamutdinov, the Lions also lost ECHL player of the week Peter Abbandonato to a recall to Laval. Defencemen Mathieu Gagnon and Hayden Shaw and newcomer Louick Marcotte went down with injuries, so replacements were badly needed.

General Manager Marc-André Bergeron signed multiple players to fill out the roster, starting with forward Anthony DeLuca who recently was suspended indefinitely by the EIHL from the Sheffield Steelers for testing for a banned substance. DeLuca had 64 games of previous ECHL experience, and was the most seasoned of the new additions.

The remainder of the new players came out of the Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey (LNAH), which is Senior AAA league that Bergeron is getting to know quite well. Gabriel Labbé and Victor Beaulac were loaned from The Eperviers de Sorel-Tracy, defenceman Louis-Philippe Denis from the Marquis de Jonquière, and Nicolas Larivière from Thetford Mines.

Finally, goaltender Kevin Poulin returned from the Rocket after his latest stint there just in time for the trip, and the team chose to put third-string goalie Anthony-Carmine Paguliarulo on reserve rather than put him on waivers for contract termination, like last time. Surely Paguliarulo will be needed shortly as goaltender Philippe Desrosiers prepares to leave to play for Team Canada at the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland over the holidays, and should NHL players decide to not go to the Olympic games, the Lions may miss Desrosiers some more in February.

Friday night, Lions win 3-2

It’s for performances such as the one that Desrosiers put on in this game that the Lions will be hoping that NHL players will be traveling to Beijing, because if Desrosiers goes to China, who will steal a game for the Lions with a 50-save performance?

He turned aside 17 shots in the first period, 20 shots in the second, and 13 in the third as the Growlers attacked the Lions’ end relentlessly throughout the game. With Gagnon and Shaw out with injuries, the Lions leaned heavily on Mathieu Brodeur to lead the defencemen, and that he did, playing nearly every second shift. Louis-Jean, a healthy scratch on most nights, found himself bumped up in responsibility, as did rookie Guillaume Beaudoin.

Despite the onslaught from the Growlers, it was Olivier Archambault who found the back of the net first, as he was forgotten by the defence as he stood alone next to goalie Keith Pettruzzeli. He was fed a perfect pass by DeLuca, who earned his first ECHL point since 2019 with the Brampton Beast.

Overall DeLuca showed his experience throughout the series, easily integrating himself into the Lions’ lineup. The Growlers tied it up not too long afterward, but still could not take advantage of their punishing shot totals.

Shawn St-Amant scored halfway through the third period to stun the Newfoundland crowd and regain the lead for the Lions, and Alexis D’Aoust added to the tally with an empty-net goal. Still the Growlers would not die, scoring in the final minute to bring the two teams within a goal, but again Desrosiers resisted to steal one for the Lions.

Despite the win, Trois-Rivières would lose another top forward, as St-Amant was unable to complete the game. In fact, that third-period goal would be his final contribution to the series, which was a huge blow to the Lions.

Saturday night, Lions lose 5-4

The Growlers started the second game the same way as the first: total shot dominance. This time it was Poulin’s turn to shut the door, as despite a 21-8 shot advantage, the Growlers only managed one goal in the first period of play.

Newfoundland added to the tally to make it 2-0, but halfway through the second period, Lions captain Cedric Montminy scored a badly needed power-play goal by deflecting a point shot to send the teams to the locker room at a close 2-1 score.

The third period was a wild affair as the Growlers took over the game, scoring three goals, and comfortably leading 5-1 with five minutes left to play. It seemed like the score from the night before was a mere fluke, and that the dominant Growlers finally emerged to do away with the wounded Lions.

But then the Growlers made history, scoring three goals in the span of 28 seconds. Whether they were the fastest three goals in ECHL history is unconfirmed, but it must be up there.

D’Aoust first scored from a goalmouth scramble when Petruzzelli couldn’t handle a shot and bobbled the handling of it. Immediately off of the faceoff, Montminy sent D’Aoust on a breakaway where no mistake was made, and it was capped off when Montminy scored his second goal of the game on yet another breakaway, bringing the Lions to within one, to a stunned crowd at Mary Browne Centre.

The Growlers clung on for dear life, and needed a remarkable save from Petruzzelli to avoid the embarrassing collapse in the final seconds.

Just like the night before, the Lions lost another player to injury, as leading scorer Olivier Archambault was unable to finish the game.

Sunday afternoon, Lions win 5-4 (OT)

The rubber match was less than 24 hours later, and by this point both teams were feeling the physical effects of a long series, as this game was by far the most equal game between the two teams. Gone was the outright domination by the Growlers in the first period, with tight checking and not a lot of chances going either way. A scoreless first period led to a wide-open second, as five goals were scored, of which three were by the Lions, with the newcomers putting their mark on the scoresheet. First it was Nicolas Lariviere, then it was Louis-Philippe Denis, and finally Montminy scored, assisted by DeLuca and Gabriel Labbé.

The Lions couldn’t hold onto a lead in the third period, and the Growlers tied the game twice, leading to a tie score of 4-4 after 60 minutes.

In overtime it was DeLuca who had the initial shot on a rare two-on-zero breakaway, with Brodeur cashing in on the rebounds. To put it in context, a Brodeur breakaway is the equivalent of a Mike Komisarek breakaway, so something went horribly wrong on the defending side. Brodeur played heroic minutes throughout this series, so it is fitting that he closed it out.

Top Performers of the Week

  • Alexis D’Aoust (3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points)
  • Cedric Montminy (3 goals, 1 assist, 4 points)
  • Olivier Galipeau (4 assists)
  • Anthony Nellis (1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points)
  • Darick Louis-Jean (3 assists)

Closing thoughts

At the quarter mark of the season, here are some stats:

  • In 19 games played, the Lions have won 10 games and only lost once when scoring first.
  • The Lions are +10 in third-period goal differential, which leads the league.
  • They have the best power-play efficiency on the road at 33.3%, and the second-best power play in the ECHL overall with an efficiency of 26.6%. Their penalty-kill efficiency varies wildly whether they are at home (third-best, 88.9%) or on the road (fourth-worst, 73.3%).
  • Trois-Rivières is first in the league for shots per game, and second in the league for goals per game. The team clearly plays a high-event type of hockey.
  • Mike Keane was in attendance for all three games, representing the Winnipeg Jets organization as a development coach. He must have loved what he saw from Philippe Desrosiers, who had a save percentage of .936 in his two starts.
  • Head coach Eric Bélanger did not have an answer as to when the injured players could return in his post-game press conference, but given how the newcomers performed, perhaps there is no need to rush anyone back.

The Lions next play a three-game set against Daniel Brière’s Maine Mariners.