The Lions de Trois-Rivières spent week five of the ECHL calendar down south, enjoying a week of sun and sweeping the South Division leaders, the Florida Everblades, in quite the surprising result, extending their win streak to six games.
When the ECHL regular-season calendar was first unveiled, the three-game series against the Everblades was the one that I had circled on my calendar as the series to watch, as it would be the first out-of-division test for the Lions, and against, historically, one of the top ECHL teams. It would really set the expectations and tone for the remainder of the season, and whether we could legitimately talk playoffs for the expansion Lions.
Ahead of their trip, the Lions lost top defenceman Charles-David Beaudoin and starting goaltender Kevin Poulin to recalls to the AHL’s Laval Rocket. Anthony Nellis was also added to the Injured Reserve.
Three players were added to the roster ahead of the trip, with the signing of forward Louick Marcotte who had been playing in the LNAH for Rivière-du-Loup, goaltender Anthony-Carmine Pagliarulo, and the return of Jonathan Joannette who had been released by the Lions a few weeks ago. Another big addition on this roadtrip was Arsen Khisamutdinov, who finally has his work-visa issues behind him, and was therefore able to join his teammates on the road for the first time this season.
Wednesday night, Lions win 5-4
The first game started rather slowly, as both teams played carefully against one another, trying to get used to a new opponent. The Everblades were more aggressive in their offence, but the Lions were the first ones to score as Justin Ducharme broke the ice three minutes into the first period, snapping a perfect wristshot low, blocker-side to give the Lions the momentary lead.
It was short lived, as the Everblades responded less than a minute later to tie the game. It was 1-1 after 20 minutes, but it was 4-1 for Florida by the halfway point of the second period, and it seemed like the Lions were just not up to the challenge.
With less than two minutes remaining in the period, Cédric Desruisseaux scored his second goal of the frame with a perfect shot five-hole on Parker Gahagen to bring the Lions within two, heading into the final 20 minutes with the sense that the game was still with reach.
In what has been a bit of a recurring theme this season, the Lions were not to be counted out despite going into the third period behind. Olivier Galipeau scored a power-play goal to bring the Lions within one, then midway through the third, Shawn St-Amant tied the game up after deflecting the puck past the goalie right at the blue paint. The Lions carried all the momentum in the third period, and it felt almost inevitable that they would score another goal.
Sure enough, Alexis D’Aoust would snap a perfect five-hole shot past the goalie on a three-on-two rush for the Lions’ fourth consecutive goal, and a remarkable come-from-behind regulation win.
Thursday evening, Lions win 3-2
If the first game of this series was a careful affair, the second game was anything but.
With the Everblades already up 1-0 early in the game, forward Kyle Neuber set the pace in the first period with a huge hit against the boards on Marcotte, ending the Lions’ newcomers night with injury. Then a hit on Mathieu Gagnon in open ice led to an interference penalty. In what was the story of the game, Gagnon took exception to the hit, and the next time the two players were on the ice, he jumped Neuber off the faceoff, attacking the Everblades forward, who immediately turtled on the ice refusing to engage. Gagnon drew a five-minute major for attempt to injure, a five-minute major for fighting, and a match penalty for being the aggressor in an altercation. This incident led to the Lions being on the penalty kill for an unheard of 10 minutes.
The Lions somehow managed to kill the penalties off, however they lost valuable time to get back into the game, and the tired Lions players who had to finish killing Gagnon’s penalty three-on-five, allowed a second goal four minutes into the second period. At this point the Everblades were in complete control of the game.
With seconds left in the middle period, Abbandonato just shot the puck on net, and it beat the goalie over his shoulder, extending his point streak to seven games, and once again setting up the two teams for an exciting third period.
The third was just as physical, as the Everblades tried to slow down the fast Lions. There were scrums after nearly every whistle, but the Lions would not be intimidated. An elbowing penalty to the Everblades allowed the Lions to tie the game as St-Amant tied things up for a second game in a row.
At this point the Lions had all the momentum, and the Everblades must have been thinking, “Here we go again.” And sure enough, in a scenario almost identical to the one the night before, D’Aoust scored the winning goal with two minutes left in the third period.
Saturday night, Lions win 6-3
The Lions made a couple of lineup changes for the final game of the series, playing 11 forwards and five defencemen as Gagnon was out with an injury and Khisamutdinov was a scratch. Eric Belanger inserted Joannette into the lineup, as well as Marcotte.
It took Abbandonato four minutes to score his first goal of the game, and he would hear his name called three more times that night as he absolutely dominated the game for the Lions. It was the first time a Lions player accomplished this feat, and included Abbandonato’s second hat trick of the season. The Lions scored three goal on their first four shots of the game, chasing the starting goaltender.
As the horn blew to sound the end of the first period, Everblades captain John McCarron sought to vent his frustration by jabbing at any Lions player he could find. He crossed a line when he hit Abbandonato in the face with the blade of his stick, receiving a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct. McCarron had scored a gorgeous goal for the Everblades earlier in the period, and with his ejection the Florida team lost an important offensive element — which they probably could have used in the second period. The Everblades managed to bring the score close, down just by a goal, but D’Aoust ensured to restored the Lions’ multi-goal lead.
They never looked back in this game, rejecting any attempt by Florida to establish their pace and convincingly taking the third game. The two teams did not leave the ice amicably at the conclusion of the victory, but with one final scrum that required the refs to pull a few players apart. The Lions were asked to stay on their bench while the Everblades left the ice in order to avoid any final flare-ups. The two teams will not meet any more this regular season, but a playoff series between these two sides would be an interesting proposition.
Top Performers of the Week
Peter Abbandonato (5 goals, 3 assists, 8 points)
Olivier Galipeau (1 goal, 5 assists, 6 points)
Alexis D’Aoust (4 goals, 1 assist, 5 points)
Olivier Archambault (5 assists)
Lions are a rocketing success
Trois-Rivières is proving its place on the three-tier development model as the Laval Rocket had four players in their lineup on Friday night who had played with the Lions at some point this season: Charles-David Beaudoin, Kevin Poulin, Terrance Amorosa, and Cam Hillis. It is refreshing to see this sort of movement in the Canadiens organization, as previously the Rocket would need to reach out to various unaffiliated ECHL teams, bringing in random players to fill out the roster. With their own ECHL team in place now, there is somewhere to give players the minutes they need to work on their game, and have them ready to come back to the Rocket and contribute more. Following the conclusion of the series of games against the Everblades, Peter Abbandonato also earned himself a recall to the Rocket, and is awaiting to play his first AHL game of the season.
Owner like what he sees
Speaking with team owner Dean MacDonald, he lauded the team character to come from behind and win, saying that they were a fast, exciting team, and he predicts that they will finish second in the division behind the powerhouse Newfoundland Growlers.
It is these very same Growlers that the Lions will be matched up against next week, playing three games against the top team in the ECHL. If this week was a test, next week feels like a final exam for the Lions.