If there is one certainty in the ECHL it’s that there will be plenty of uncertainty. The Lions de Trois-Rivières had a successful start to the season, with an unusual amount of stability and roster predictability. But ever since the Montreal Canadiens and Laval Rocket began piling up injuries and dealing with player unavailability due to COVID-19 outbreaks, the Lions have been on their toes as they felt the knock-on effects.
By December, the team reached out to the Ligue Nord Americaine de Hockey (LNAH) to find replacement players. Now with the LNAH starting up play again, the Lions had to once again find a new source of players.
The Lions were now without any players on loan from an AHL team, as Carl Neill, Shawn St-Amant, and Cédric Desruisseaux were all recalled by the Laval Rocket, Philippe Desrosiers had been recalled by the Manitoba Moose, and Charles-David Beaudoin had been granted a release from his contract in order to travel overseas to play in Sweden. Inversely, Tyler Boivin joined the team coming the other way, leaving the Swedish third league to return to North America.
Alexis D’Aoust remains on a tryout in the AHL, but at least Anthony Nellis returned from his tryout with the Manitoba Moose. His one game in the AHL was well received by the Moose, but returning roster players rendered him expendable. Also returning was forward Julien Nantel who had been out with a leg injury since mid-November.
The Lions claimed Nick Mangone off waivers from the Wheeling Nailers, although he never really joined the team before being released.
Tuesday night, Lions win 5-3 vs. Thunder
The Adirondack Thunder sit in the last spot in the North Division, but that did not top them from offering a fierce resistance to the Lions in their first meeting of the week. The first period was a careful one as both teams traded goals on low shots.
Although he was redundant in the AHL, Nellis is anything but for the Lions. First he got an assist on Olivier Archambault’s goal to tie the game at one in the first period, streaking down the middle, drawing defenders, and then swinging a no-look pass to the goal-scorer who had a wide-open net.
Nellis went on to score the game-winning and insurance goals in the third period to complete the night with three points. Defenceman Neill struggled in his first few games with the Lions, but against the Thunder he had a three-point night as well.
Another player who is making an incredible impact for the Lions is William Leblanc, who scored the go-ahead goal for the Lions in the second period after a hard short-handed forecheck.
Friday night, Lions win 6-4 vs. Thunder
It is worth noting that between Tuesday and Friday, no fewer than six new players were in the lineup for the Lions. With the LNAH recalling all of its players, the Lions turned to the American SPHL to supplement their roster.
Within minutes of the game starting, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, noted pugilist, ran a player with an open-ice hit and then greeted another with fists. He had little impact otherwise in the match.
This game was an excellent example of a typical Lions game. It started off slowly as both teams tried to get a feel for one another, but then the Lions’ quickness exploited an opportunity to put the team ahead. In this case it was Nicolas Larivière who circled around the net, whipped around, and shot the puck on net for the quick go-ahead goal.
The Lions then got into penalty trouble, taking three consecutive minors in the first period, from a total of seven on the game. The Thunder converted on three of those opportunities to sway the momentum in their favour.
Thankfully, the Lions are talented enough that they can quickly respond.
Saturday night, Lions win 6-2 vs. Maine Mariners
The Lions played with seven defencemen as Letourneau-Leblond was released after Friday’s game. He lives locally in Glens Falls, so it was a convenient marriage while the Lions were in town.
In Portland, the team was looking to avenge its three-game sweep at home while the Mariners were definitely planning on taking advantage of a rebooted Lions lineup.
The Mariners came out hard, but the Lions resisted until their speed really started taking over the game. At first, Maine goaltender Jeremy Brodeur kept the score even by making numerous big saves, but six minutes into the third a two-on-two break by Nantel and Jonathan Joannette, led to an unscreened snapshot getting past Brodeur, a goal that he certainly would want back.
Mariners broadcaster Michael Keeley made a very astute observation regarding the Lions: “They play a very structured game.” This has really been the secret to their success thus far, given the constant change on their roster. Whereas Martin St. Louis talked about playing a less structured game and letting the Canadiens players make reads and trust their instincts, Eric Bélanger ensures that the Lions play within a strict system which can easily integrate new pieces. The system is all about quick zone breakouts, and always knowing where your teammates are.
The Lions dominated the opening periods as they tried to avenge their loss, never taking their foot off the pedal. It was 4-0 after two periods of play.
Maine scored 1:07 into the third period to see a slight glimmer of hope, but Larivière replied 20 seconds later to get it back to a four-goal lead. The Mariners controlled most of the play in the third period, but Anthony-Carmine Pagliarulo shut down any comeback attempt.
Sunday afternoon, Lions lost 2-1 in overtime to Maine
The final game of the road trip was again in Portland, and again the Lions came out hard. The top line of Nellis, Archambault, and Cédric Montminy combined on a beautiful tic-tac-toe goal to quickly give the Lions a 1-0 lead.
The Mariners scored a power-play goal later in the first period to lock both teams at 1-1 after 20 minutes. The second period was a heavy defensive effort, with not too much flow to it. The Mariners were able to shut down the powerful Lions offence, squeezing out a lot of plays and ensuring their own slot was heavily defended. Three periods made no master, so overtime was required to break the stalemate.
Nellis got close early into overtime, hitting the post, but ultimately the Mariners took advantage of sustained puck-possession to score the game-winning goal on a slapshot by Connor Bleackley, who always finds his way onto the scoresheet against the Lions.
Overall, it was quite a successful week for the Lions, earning seven out of a possible eight points, solidifying their third-place standing in the North Division.
Players of the week
- Olivier Archambault (3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points)
- Anthony Nellis (2 goals, 4 assists, 6 points)
- Julien Nantel (3 goals, 1 assist, 4 points)
- Cédric Montminy (2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points)
- Carmine-Anthony Pagliarulo (1 wins, .938 Sv%, 1.94 GAA)
The Lions will now play seven consecutive home games, the first four at 50% capacity, followed hopefully by the return to full capacity. On deck for next week are the Mariners again on Wednesday, then a big three-games-in-three-nights set against the Newfoundland Growlers on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.