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Lions Bites: Dogs bite Cats

Trois-Rivières suffers two losses against the Growlers, and now four losses in a row.

Joe Vrbetic
Lions de Trois-Rivières

The Lions de Trois-Rivières played two games against the ECHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Newfoundland Growlers, on the weekend, and came up short on both occasions. The Growlers continue to be undefeated this season, while the Lions are in a four-game skid.

Earlier in the week, the Lions received Riley McKay from the the Laval Rocket as a byproduct of the trade that sent Cam Hillis to the Chicago Blackhawks, and he joined the lineup after just one practice with the team. He’s a very chippy player who was third in the ECHL last season with 192 penalty minutes. The 23-year-old did also score 14 goals for the Indy Fuel last season for 27 points, so he is capable of adding to the team offensively. In these two games against the Growlers, he showed both sides of what he brings to the team.

Friday evening: Growlers win 6-3

The top line of the Growlers, made up of Orrin Centazzo, Tyler Bolland, and Zach O’Brien, are all capable of playing in the AHL. As a unit in the ECHL, they are clearly doing as they please, and are a threat with every possession. On Friday night, each player had three points to give their line a total of nine points, and they struck quickly in the first period on a highly skilled give-and-go play.

The Lions were not prepared to roll over for the Growlers. Colin Bilek intercepted an attempted zone exit at the blueline, and fed the puck to a rushing Anthony Beauregard, who had an empty slot to skate up and pick his shot, scoring his third goal in three games for the Growlers.

The top line pulled the Growlers ahead again, but Ryan Francis used his speed to score a great short-handed goal on a breakaway to tie the game up.

Before the first period wrapped up, the newly formed energy line of Riley McKay, Nicolas Guay, and Jonathan Joannette gave the Lions their first lead of the game, taking a 3-2 lead into the first intermission.

The second period was played in stark contrast to the first, with tight checking and few opportunities on either end. Unfortunately newcomer McKay did more harm than good for his new team, taking two consecutive minor penalties, one for roughing and one for kneeing, with both leading to Growlers goals.

McKay nearly found retribution by tying the game up before the end of the period, but he was stopped on a breakaway. The Lions would not get back into this game, playing a terrible third period and dropping the game by a final score of 6-3.

Saturday afternoon: Lions lose 3-1

After Eric Belanger called out the lack of saves for the Lions on Friday, Joe Vrbetic got the start in the game on Saturday. The Lions were also dealing with another player suspension, as Nicolas Larivière received a one-game ban for a dangerous boarding call during Friday’s game. As a result, the Lions were once again down to 10 forwards, and to make matters worse, Bélanger tested positive for COVID-19, causing him to miss the game, plunging the team into uncertainty once again. General manager Marc-André Bergeron took over behind the bench for the team.

Unfortunately for the Lions, the Growlers struck quickly in the first minute to take the 1-0 lead immediately. With a shortage of players already plaguing the team, falling behind to was the worst-case scenario for a second game in less than 24 hours.

Thankfully, they did manage to tie up the game midway through the first period, thanks to a Growlers turnover at the Lions’ blue line. James Phelan connected with McKay, who rushed up ice, and deked out Growlers starter Luke Cavallin to score his first goal with the Lions.

Newfoundland was too strong, and the forecheck was hard to handle. The Lions did many things right, and provided a much more robust response than the previous night, including Vrbetic making some key saves to keep the game tied at one headed into the third period.

Unfortunately the Growlers scored the game-winning goal a minute into the third, on a gorgeous end-to-end rush by Axel Rindell that’s worth a rewatch.

The Lions were offered two golden chances to tie the game up when the Growlers took two minor penalties, but were unable to capitalize on the seven shots directed on goal during the power plays. The Growlers put the game away with an insurance goal with about two-and -a-half minutes left.

I’m Watching You

  • Lions starter Philippe Desrosiers is struggling thus far this season. His stats after four starts: .837 save percentage, and a 4.20 goals-against average.
  • The Lions’ second line of Colin Bilek, Brett Stapley, and Nicolas Guay was pretty quiet in these two games.
  • Defenceman Olivier Galipeau is definitely the top defenceman for the team providing a steady and consistent presence.

Also...

  • Captain Cédric Montminy has to purge one more game of his five-game suspension for leaving the bench during an altercation.
  • The Laval Rocket assigned Brennan Saulnier and Pierrick Dubé to the Lions on Monday.
  • Conner Chaulk and Thomas Singouin are both still day-to-day with their injuries, while defenceman Bradley Johnson is still weeks from a return.
  • The Lions next play the Adirondack Thunder at home, on Friday and Saturday.