The Lions de Trois-Rivières traveled west for the first time in franchise history. Because of limited travel budgets, ECHL teams play a limited variety of opponents during a season, so when the regular-season schedule is released you look for the unique opponents. In the Lions’ case, one of the more unique adversaries were the Utah Grizzlies of the Mountain Division, the affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche.
Earlier in the week, the Laval Rocket recalled Ryan Francis for the first time as they deal with some injuries. Overall, the Lions have benefited from a lot of stability in their lineup, in sharp contrast to their inaugural season. Of course, in the face of this player stability, one major change that occurred is the departure of head coach Eric Bélanger who resigned from the position, only to immediately take the same job with the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Friday night: Lions win 6-4
With general manager Marc-André Bergeron assuming interim head coaching responsibilities, the Lions began their road trip on a winning note, beating the Grizzlies in their first ever meeting.
John Parker-Jones opened the scoring for the Lions midway in the first period, but the Grizzlies tied it up on a power play soon afterward.
The Lions scored twice in a defensive-minded second period, but it was in the third period where the excitement was, as six goals were scored in the final 10 minutes of the game, starting with Utah bringing the game to within one on a four-on-four goal.
Anthony Beauregard quickly responded, giving the Lions a two-goal cushion again, and John Parker-Jones made it 5-2 with under five minutes to play.
Utah refused to concede, and thundered back with two goals in a minute’s span, but ultimately Nicolas Larivière’s empty-netter gave the Lions the win, with Joe Vrbetic stopping 27 of 31 shots.
Saturday night: Grizzlies win 5-4
Trois-Rivières’ five-game winning streak came to an end, as the Lions lost the lead three times in a game they were undone by the penalty-kill unit once again, with Utah scoring three times on seven opportunities.
With the Lions already down after four minutes, Parker-Jones and Riley McKay scored goals to put the Lions ahead 2-1, but the Grizzlies quickly equalized. Anthony Beauregard would give the Lions the lead again, which they took into the first intermission.
In the second period, the Lions took three consecutive minor penalties, draining their momentum, and offering the Grizzlies another game-tying goal.
Larivière scored his fifth of the season in the first minute of the third period to give his side a 4-3 lead, but again penalties came back to haunt the Lions as the Grizzlies tied the game midway through the third period right after a Lions penalty kill, and scored the game winner soon afterward on another power play.
Philippe Desrosiers was hoping to get his first win of the season, stopping 21 of 26 shots, but ultimately the game slipped right through the team’s fingers due to their indiscipline.
Sunday afternoon: Grizzlies win 4-0
The Lions wrapped up the three-game series against the Grizzlies on a losing note.
Vrbetic received the start, but once again couldn’t prove enough of a difference to steal a game, which is what the team really needs. The goaltender allowed two goals in the first period, the second to former Canadiens defenceman Victor Bartley on a bobbled save, and the Lions were down two after 20.
The second period was a penalty-filled affair with lots of physicality, as McKay and Parker-Jones took majors for fighting. However it was a minor penalty to Parker-Jones beforehand that hurt the most as the Grizzlies scored a power-play goal, putting the game out of reach.
Desrosiers came into the game halfway through after the Grizzlies’ fourth goal, stopping all 10 shots he faced, but it did not motivate the team to claw its way back into the game. Two more minor penalties in the third to the Lions led them to limp their way through the final period with just five shots to end the game.
“It’s the lack of discipline that cost us,” said Bergeron after the game to Le Nouvelliste. “We were the better team on the ice, but they scored on the power play and knocked us off our rhythm.”
I’m watching you...
- The goaltenders are not making a difference for the Lions so far this season. Joe Vrbetic has all six wins, but a 3.53 GAA and .881 save percentage. Philippe Desrosiers is still waiting for his first win, with a 4.25 GAA and .846 Sv%.
- James Phelan leads the ECHL with 16 minor penalties.
- John Parker-Jones has four power-play goals, leading all ECHL rookies, and a 23.1% shooting percentage leads all defencemen in the ECHL.
- The Lions are fifth in the league for minor penalties taken, and last on the penalty kill at 67.2%; a killer combination. With discipline and special-teams structure being a huge problem for the team, one wonders whether a rookie head coach is sustainable for very long.
- The North Division features two of the strongest teams in the ECHL, the Worcester Railers with 29 points and the Newfoundland Growlers with 27. The Lions are in fourth place in the division with 15 points.
- Joe Vrbetic has been recalled to Laval, while Ryan Francis has been returned to Trois-Rivières after spending the week with the Rocket.
- The next action for the Lions is two games against the Iowa Heartlanders at the Colisée Vidéotron on Friday and Saturday. The Heartlanders are last in the Central Division with nine points. Newfoundlander Dean MacDonald owns both teams.