Friday night: Loss to Maine Mariners 4-3 in overtime
The Lions kicked off their second season in fine fashion, drawing a record crowd of 4,575 at the Colisée Vidéotron. The fans were treated to a pre-show by artists Jonas Tomalty and Marie-Luce Béland as the Lions add to the entertainment factor in their game presentations. With no preseason games ahead of the season-opener, it’s hard to tell how the team would respond. Last season in a similar situation, they were quickly outclassed by the Newfoundland Growlers.
This season, however, they took it to the Maine Mariners, and dominated the shots for the better part of the first period. The Mariners first shot on net came only half way through the first period. During this period of domination it was Cam Hillis who broke the ice for the Lions, scoring from the point with a puck that hit a Mariners defenceman on the way past Brandon Bussi.
Bussi, a Boston Bruins prospect, played an incredible strong game for the Mariners stopping 37 of 40 shots that the Lions aimed his way, keeping his team in the game, earning himself the third star.
Despite the domination by the Lions, the Mariners would tie late in the first period on a power play after Anthony Beauregard took a hooking call. Maine scored immediately off of the faceoff. The Lions would take the lead again in the second period on a goal by Olivier Galipeau, but the Mariners would tie yet again late in the period on another powerplay.
The late second period goal gave the Mariners the momentum, and they would score in the first minute of the third to take their first lead of the game. The Mariners controlled most of the third period, but the consistent hard work of the top line of William Leblanc, Ryan Francis, and Beauregard paid off to tie the game at 3-3.
The Mariners would score in overtime to take the game, however the Lions banked a point in the season opener.
Alex Breton needed stitches after taking the puck to the face midway in the third period, and did not return to the game. He would wear a full face shield for the next two games, having some repairs done.
After the game head coach Eric Belanger was satisfied with the team’s effort, with strong performances by Cam Hillis, Olivier Galipeau, William Leblanc, and Ryan Francis. “Very happy. We didn’t have a preseason game, and I couldn’t ask more from the team. If we keep playing like this, we will win nine out of ten times.”
In the post-game interview Hillis made his ambitions pretty clear. “I thought I played strong. I’m been working on my pro game for the last two years. I’m ready to be up there full-time (Laval), but I’m here. I’ll work hard here and help the team win, but... I thought I worked hard on my overall game today, 200 feet, and I was happy with it.”
Bélanger did not disagree. “He played really well, that’s what he needs to do to prove that he deserves to go back.”
Worthy to note that this game was the first-ever ECHL regular season game to use the two referee system.
Saturday night: Lions beat Mariners 3-2
Just as the Lions declared a sellout the night before, the Mariners were able to do the same for their home opener at the Cross Insurance Arena, with over 5,300 people packing the arena.
Joe Vrbetic received his first professional start, and showed some great reflexes, stopping Mathew Santos on a breakaway with a pad save. Overall he would save 32 of 34 shots, and earned the second star of the game.
The Lions scored first for the second night in a row as William Leblanc scored from his knees after recovering the puck after a failed two-on-one, and flipping the puck above François Brassard’s shoulder.
Colin Bilek, loaned to the Lions from the Manitoba Moose, scored twice in this game, including the game-winning goal five minutes into the third period.
Things broke down a bit later in the third period as the Lions were up 3-2, as a scrum in front of Joe Vrbetic was broken up by the referees, only giving a penalty to the Mariners. As the players were skating back to the benches still jawing at one another, Mariners captain Connor Doherty cross-checked Joannette in the chest, and the players re-engaged. This drew Montminy off of the Lions bench, and he engaged in a fight with Cameron Askew. Montminy received a game misconduct, and subsequently was suspended for five games for leaving the bench.
Despite losing their captain the Lions held on to their one-goal lead and took their first game of the season.
Sunday afternoon: Lions lose 5-2 to the Mariners
The Lions and Mariners completed a three-in-three set to start their season on Sunday afternoon, and the most challenging situation of the calendar proved to be a lot for both teams, as you could sense that energy levels were low on both sides.
Desrosiers was back in goal for the Lions, and Bussi was back in nets for the Mariners. Similar to Friday’s game, Desrosiers was good, but Bussi was better. He stopped 75 of 80 shots that the Lions put his way, earning an incredible 0.938 save percentage in his two wins.
The Mariners scored first in this game for the first time in this series, despite the Lions starting strong once again. The Lions were unable to capitalize on two powerplays in the third period, and throwing away a third powerplay when Nicolas Larivière nullified a delayed penalty call on the Mariners while the Lions controlled at 6-on-5 for a long time, and with tired Mariners on the ice unable to change off.
Thankfully the lethargic Lions managed to break the ice and solve Bussi, with one second left in the second period, when James Phelan one-touched the puck on a zone entry directly to Cam Hillis, who made a nifty skate-to-stick move and whipped in it to reduce the game to a one-goal deficit.
Both teams forechecked hard in the third period, but neither side gaining a clear advantage at any point. The Lions push ended on a Nicolas Guay penalty with five minutes to go, which the Mariners were able to convert to regain a two-goal lead.
They added an empty net goal, but slight hope was restored on an Anthony Beauregard goal to bring it back to a two-goal game with a minute left. The Mariners sealed the game with another empty netter.
Special teams were the difference in this series, as the Lions only scored once on seven powerplays, but allowed four goals on eight penalties.
I’m watching you
- Colin Bilek and William Leblanc came out hot to start the season, each with two goals and an assist over the weekend. It was unknown how Bilek would take to his first professional hockey games, but the rookie fared very well. As for Leblanc, it appears that the effects of last season’s concussions are gone, and he is back to being the player who provides huge support to the Lions offence.
- A couple of names of interest for Montreal Canadiens fans, Brett Stapley and Cam Hillis, also looked real good, with Hillis scoring twice, and Stapley earning two assists. Stapley had the chance to show-off his one-timer from the “Ovechkin spot”, and although it didn’t go in this time, it looks as though he should score soon enough.
- Olivier Galipeau formed the top defensive pairing with Alex Breton, which is a work in progress as the two players get to know each other. Breton has some interesting puck skills, and has the ability to skate around the offensive zone and cause a bit of havok. Goals will come.
- Really interested to see Joe Vrbetic’s next start.