UPDATED: Lions general manager Marc-André Bergeron held a press conference on Wednesday morning following the departure of head coach Eric Bélanger.
“I felt that Eric has not been comfortable for a while, but when he came into my office at 3pm to let me know he was quitting, I was definitely not expecting it. We talked for a while about the why and the how, and I respected his decision. It’s a discussion that will stay between him and I, but if Eric wants to open up on the ‘personal reasons’ that led to his decision, that’s up to him”.
In terms of the next head coach, it really seems like Bergeron will assume the role for the foreseeable future, with no set timeline for finding a permanent replacement. “Two weeks, two months, two years, I don’t know. I’m not actively looking as of today. I want to land on my two feet first. If there are any interested candidates I invite them to apply”.
Bergeron actually coached a game a few weeks ago when Bélanger was out with Covid, and the general manager admitted that it was a positive experience for him. “I liked my experience. I never saw myself as a coach, but life has other plans. Eric’s decision motivated me, and I see it as an opportunity to learn the ECHL at another level besides hockey operations. It can only be a positive for the Lions organization in general. Having been behind the bench just a few weeks ago actually reassures me”.
Bergeron will be seconded by the remaining coaching staff, assistants Pascal Rhéaume and Alex Coussineau. “The easy solution right now is for everyone to keep their chars, and I will take Eric’s chair”, said Bergeron. “It will help with the continuity. We’re finally at 0.500 after a rough season to the season, we are a results based team, so we don’t want to cause too much disruption for the players while things are going well”.
ORIGINAL: The first head coach in the history of the ECHL’s Lions de Trois-Rivières, Eric Bélanger, chose to leave the team 13 games into the season, the team announced on Tuesday.
Éric Bélanger a donné sa démission de son poste d’entraîneur-chef des Lions de Trois-Rivières pour des raisons personnelles.— Lions de Trois-Rivières (@Lions3r) November 22, 2022
Marc-André Bergeron assumera les responsabilités d’entraîneur-chef sur une base intérimaire. #Lions3Rhttps://t.co/wiD3h2BvmK
He is reportedly a likely candidate for the vacant head coaching position with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but no official announcement has been made at the time of this writing.
Bélanger was hired by Lions general manager Marc-André Bergeron on June 15, 2021, and led the Lions in their inaugural 2021-22 season to a 34-29-6 record, with the highlight being a seven-game winning streak in late November of that year.
The team was perhaps at its lowest when they were dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19 in late December. The team left for a New Year’s Eve game in Maine that Bélanger opposed, as he felt that the players should not cross international borders as the virus began tearing through the team. The players who tested positive ended up having to return to Canada in six U-Haul trucks after several days of trying to figure things out.
They eventually clinched a playoff berth in the penultimate game of the season in front of 4,100 fans after a wild season in which the team used over 80 players. The Lions would then go on to face their rivals, the Newfoundland Growlers, in a thrilling first-round series, ultimately losing in seven games. Bélanger later admitted that the team was simply out of gas by the seventh game after a very draining season.
Behind the scenes things were not easy, with rumoured personality clashes between Bélanger and some of his players, notably with top scorer Olivier Archambault who was made a healthy scratch on several occasions. Bélanger was a very demanding coach, and it rubbed some the wrong way. At the same time, the coach was dealing with some personal issues, breaking down emotionally at a press conference in late February, lamenting that he hadn’t seen his two daughters in over two months because of the work schedule and the restrictions put in place for the team.
The Voltigeurs fired their head coach a week ago, and several names were rumoured to be in the running, including former Laval Rocket assistant coach Daniel Jacob. The role would allow Bélanger to stay closer to his family, and not travel to the United States regularly.
The Lions are leaving for a three-game series in Utah against the Grizzlies, with Bergeron assuming interim duties for the time being while he searches for a replacement behind the bench. Bélanger’s assistant, Pascal Rhéaume, will run the bench during games for the time being. So far this season the team is 6-6-1, and sits in fourth place in the North Division.