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Lions Bites: Finding heart against the Heartlanders

The Lions are finding their groove just as roster movements loom.

Lions de Trois-Rivières

The Lions de Trois-Rivières played two games over the weekend against their sister franchise, the Iowa Heartlanders, the ECHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild. They’re siblings because they both joined the league at the same time, and are both owned by Dean MacDonald. In their second seasons, the two teams played against one another for the first time. It was a feisty series of games, but the Lions ultimately prevailed on both occasions.

Friday night: Lions win 4-2

The first game was played in two parts. The first can be categorized as Lions domination in all aspects of the game, with starter Philippe Desrosiers making some big early saves to ward off the Heartlanders’ spirited start, with three posts along the way, to keep the game scoreless. The Lions forwards then took over with three goals in the span of four minutes late in the first.

First Ryan Francis scored his third of the season on a goal-crease scramble, then Anthony Beauregard was credited with his seventh of the year when his pass into the crease was neatly deflected by a Heartlander defender for an own goal. To wrap up the flurry, defenceman Santino Centorame finally scored his first goal on the year with a point shot that found its way through traffic.

Unfortunately Centorame and the fans won’t remember this game for being the one in which he scored his first goal, but rather being taken off the ice on a stretcher in the second period. After handing off the puck he was hit late by Juan Sanchez and sent crashing into the boards. He lay motionless on the ice as the team physician and the paramedics began to attend to him. Cédric Montminy grabbed Sanchez and began swinging in defence of his fallen teammate. Centorame was removed off the ice wearing a neck brace, as the paramedics took no risks given that he moved very little after the hit. Thankfully, he showed full movement soon after, and did not need to travel to the hospital. Sanchez was handed a two-game suspension for his actions.

The incident took the wind out of the sails of the Lions entirely, and the third period was dominated by the Heartlanders. Thankfully the Lions avoided the penalty box, which to their credit is a big improvement over previous games as late penalties have been killer for them this season. Despite being outshot 19-6 in the third period, they held on to win 4-2 on a 32-save game from Desrosiers.

Saturday afternoon: Lions win 5-4 in overtime

With the heaviness of the Centorame situation behind them, the Lions were ready to complete the week on a positive note, and they did so in a show of tremendous team character in a game they came from behind three times to eventually win in overtime.

Five goals were scored in the first period, with the Heartlanders scoring first within 90 seconds of the start of the game, but power-play wizard John Parker-Jones tied it a minute later, bringing a rain of teddy bears for the team’s first-ever Teddy Bear Toss event.

The Heartlanders took the lead again later in the period, and the Lions tied it again less than a minute later on a goal by Olivier Galipeau. The Lions exited the first period up a goal when Colin Bilek bounced back up from off the ice after being checked down to deflect in a point shot.

Despite an action-packed second period, only the Heartlanders were able to score to tie the game at 3-3. In the third period the Heartlanders once again took the lead, and the Lions responded quickly when Pierrick Dubé scored the tying goal, signaling his return from injury in excellent fashion.

Overtime didn’t take long, as Anthony Beauregard scored in the first minute to give the Lions the win, sending the 2800 people in attendance home happy.

I’m watching you:

  • John Parker-Jones was awarded the Videotron Player of the Month award for November.
  • Philippe Desrosiers finally picked up his first wins on the season. With Joe Vrbetic on recall to Laval, Desrosiers had to step up, and he did so with a save percentage of .898 and a goals-against average of 2.97. These stats were good enough to support the high-firing Lions offence.
  • The penalty-kill didn’t allow any goals in six opportunities, hopefully a sign that this big problem for the team is finally turning around.
  • Brett Stapley is still searching for his first goal, but he did add three assists this week to bring his total to 10. He’s slowly gaining a foothold as a dependable two-way centre, with good puck-distribution and solid defensive play. He still needs to work on his footspeed to make it up a level.
  • Anthony Beauregard (two goals, one assist), Ryan Francis (one goal, two assists), and William Leblanc (three assists) also had three points in two games this week.
  • Riley McKay missed both games due to injury. Bradley Johnson might make his season debut after missing the entire season thus far with an upper body injury.
  • Defenceman Olivier Galipeau is tied for second in team scoring with 14 points.

Also:

  • Player movement is inevitable in the ECHL, so it should be no surprise that the Lions’ top ECHL-contracted defenceman, Alex Breton, signed a PTO with the AHL’s Belleville Senators. Sunday’s game was his first in the AHL since the 2018-19 season when he also suited up for the Senators for a game and 10 for the Springfield Thunderbirds.
  • In the recent series of games between the Laval Rocket and the Abbotsford Canucks, three goaltenders with ties to the Lions took part. Kevin Poulin, Arturs Silovs, and Joe Vrbetic all played for the Lions last season.
  • It was a nice break from the familiar opponents as the Lions faced the Everblades, Icemen, Grizzlies, and Heartlanders, but the Lions are back into the intra-division portion of their schedule. On Wednesday they host the Worcester Railers, and then they travel to Portland to play against the Maine Mariners on Friday and Saturday.
  • Despite the wins, the Lions dropped to fifth in the division, with the Maine Mariners edging ahead in a tight pack in the middle of the group.