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Lions Bites: Thunderstruck

Trois-Rivières gift points to Adirondack in a two-game set over the weekend.

Pierrick Dubé
Lions de Trois-Rivières

The Lions de Trois-Rivières played a couple of games last week, against the only team in the ECHL that had yet to win a game, the Adirondack Thunder, affiliate of the New Jersey Devils. These games were an opportunity to establish good habits and turn around some recent fortunes. Instead bad habits emerged, and general concerns about the Lions’ lineup became apparent.

Friday evening: Beat the Adirondack Thunder 4-3 in OT

Eric Bélanger was back behind the bench for the Lions after missing last Saturday’s game with a positive case of COVID-19. However, Brett Stapley and Riley McKay were placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List. Philippe Bureau-Blais and Conner Chaulk were also scratched without explanation, with the team even posting earlier in the day on social media that Chaulk was cleared to play and would make his season debut. The team would not comment on the reason for their absence.

The Lions gave up the first goal rather easily, in the third minute of the game, as the Thunder moved the puck around well in the Lions’ zone and an unscreened shot beat Joe Vrbetic cleanly. Moments prior, the Lions gave up a two-man breakaway, but Vrbetic did make a difficult save look easy. Defensively it was a difficult start to the game for the Lions.

With the arrival of Brennan Saulnier and Pierrick Dubé from the Laval Rocket, the Lions broke up their top line of Thomas Beauregard, Ryan Francis, and William Leblanc, and put Beauregard together with the two newcomers on the top line.

Unfortunately the line didn’t last long, as Saulnier received a boarding major and a match penalty in the first period for driving Thunder defenceman Jeff Taylor into the boards on a puck chase into the Thunder zone. Taylor stayed down on the ice while a scrum broke out between the two teams. Saulnier was obviously ejected from the game, starting off a contest riddled with a lack of discipline.

It wasn’t a great first period for the Lions, who fell behind by a goal after 20, but they dominated the second period, with Nicolas Larivière scoring the tying goal from a tape-to-tape pass by Olivier Galipeau from deep in the Lions’ zone to the red line.

The Lions’ power play gave them the lead when Ryan Francis faked a slapshot from the point to draw the defenders, and passed the puck cross-zone to Dubé, who put a one-timer past Ian Poulter.

The Lions added to their lead on a second goal by Dubé early in the third period, but discipline problems cost the Lions big time, conceding two power-play goals to allow the Thunder to tie the game. Larivière notably had three minor penalties in the third period. One of the Thunder’s goals was just ridiculous.

Thankfully, the Lions ended up winning in overtime when Alex Breton intercepted a pass and found himself directly in front of goal, where he made no mistake.

It’s noteworthy that, despite the terrible penalty that cost the regulation win, Bélanger did not punish Jonathan Joannette, but rather put him right back on the ice to end the third period. But the coach was not happy with how the game went, despite the win that snapped the team’s four-game losing streak.

“This game should have never gone to overtime,” he said. “We should have never given a point to this team. We were so indisciplined, it’s hard to believe. At least it happened in a win, but we cannot play like that and think that we will win games. The lack of discipline taints this win.”

Saturday afternoon: Lions lose 6-1 against the Thunder

Brennan Saulnier was suspended for his hit for two games, but Cédric Montminy returned from his five-game suspension to replace him in the lineup.

It was a difficult start to the game, and John Parker-Jones got into a spirited fight to try to get his team going. The Lions’ best opportunity in the first was off the stick of James Phelan, but Thunder starter Jake Theut made a massive save on the shot.

The Lions were more disciplined in this game than they were the previous night, only taking two minor penalties, compared to seven the game before. But generally speaking, the Thunder were just the better team all game long, hungry for their first win of the season. They smelled blood, and dominated the Lions in the first period. It was 2-0 for the Thunder on 17 shots after one period, and it was 3-0 when the Thunder scored very early in the second period.

Colin Bilek gave the Lions some hope toward the end of the second period, with his fourth goal of the season to lead the team.

The Lions had the opportunity to close the gap further with an early third period power play, but instead it was the Thunder who scored a short-handed goal to give them a 4-1 lead, and you just felt the wind leave the Lions’ sails. One more goal for the Thunder midway through the third, and then a short-handed empty-netter with four minutes to go in the game was the rest of the scoring. The Lions lost their fifth game of the last six.

I’m Watching You

  • The step change in Dubé’s game compared to last season is pretty significant. He made an immediate impact for the Lions.
  • Mathieu Brodeur and Francis Thibeault form a physically intimidating defence pairing, but they experience a lot of problems handling the puck.
  • It’s still early, but currently it feels like Joe Vrbetic could take the starter’s job from Philippe Desrosiers — not that it really means much since the goalies alternate starts. Desrosiers has a disastrous 4.39 goals-against average and an .842 save percentage after five starts. The 35 goals given up by the Lions are the worst in the league.

Also...

  • After eight regular-season games, the Lions have a record of 2-5-1 for five points, good enough for fifth in the North Division.
  • Four players are tied for the team lead at six points: Colin Bilek, William Leblanc, Anthony Beauregard, and Olivier Galipeau. Bilek is tied for most shots on net for a rookie.
  • Olivier Galipeau and Alex Breton are first and second in the league for shots on net by defencemen.
  • The Lions only have one veteran player in the lineup of the limit of four. They have 11 rookies.
  • The ECHL has not predetermined which games will get two referees, as it is all dependent on referee availability at any given time. Overall the goal is that 25% of all regular-season home games be officiated by two referees, equalling nine home games per team.
  • The Lions head down south next week to Florida to play against the Jacksonville Icemen and the Orlando Solar Bears in a three-in-three, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Both teams are at the bottom of the South Division standings.
  • Noah Corson, son of Shayne, was on the Adirondack side. Read his story here.