The Lions de Trois-Rivières have had an eventful inaugural season in the ECHL. Certainly the story is still being written by the Montreal Canadiens’ affiliate, and no story can be without some sort of challenges. General Manager Marc-André Bergeron has borne the brunt of the pressure thus far with nearly daily player movement, but after two months of roster uncertainty, you can start to feel a certain exhaustion from the coach and the players themselves. The Lions are most certainly into the thick of it, needing new players to step up to help relieve some of the pressure on the top lines.
So far this season, the Lions were able to tap into hockey players who were signed to contracts with the LNAH. But as Le Nouvelliste recently published, these players are now out of reach, because the LNAH has threatened any contracted players with 18-month suspensions should they sign with the ECHL. It’s both a move to enforce the contracts in place to ensure the integrity of their teams, but also, let’s not kid ourselves, the LNAH views the ECHL as direct competition for a niche market of fans who will go see minor pro hockey. The two leagues tried to negotiate a deal to continue cooperation, but an LNAH-imposed deadline of February 17 came and went without a deal. There was a mass exodus of players last week from the Lions as a result. The only player who braved the suspension was Nicolas Larivière, who continues to try his luck in the ECHL, and is slowly finding his place on the team.
Thankfully, some reinforcements arrived from the American Hockey League, as the Manitoba Moose returned defenceman Hayden Shaw after an early January recall, and the Laval Rocket returned defenceman Carl Neill and forward Cédric Desruisseaux.
Wednesday, lost to Maine 6-1
The game started poorly for the Lions, as the Mariners scored a mere 16 seconds in. The Lions clawed back soon afterward, as the game was quick and without any breaks in the action. Olivier Archambault accepted a pass from Anthony Nellis, and he made no mistake to bury the tying goal past Jeremy Brodeur.
Unfortunately, the Mariners scored a go-ahead goal midway through the first on a play that developed at the Mariners’ blue line when defenceman Jean-Francois David lost the puck, then lost the foot race to get back in time on a Mariners two-on-one break, which resulted in the Mariners their second lead of the game.
Then the Lions got into their usual habit of taking bad penalties that breaks up any momentum the team had. Captain Cédric Montminy took two minor penalties and a fighting major in the second period alone, at a point in the season when the team needs him to produce offence due to lack of depth.
The Mariners scored two more goals in the third, both on the power play, and finally an empty-net goal the game away. The Mariners have had the Lions’ number of late. That is bad for Trois-Rivières since the two are in direct competition for a playoff spot, and the Lions are losing the games in hand they held.
Friday night, lost to Growlers 6-1
The three-game series versus the Growlers had been highly anticipated, as the two Canadian teams haven’t faced each other since early December, when the Lions won two out of three games.
Any momentum the Lions were hoping to come out with was immediately shunted when Mathieu Gagnon took a holding penalty 30 seconds into the game. The Growlers went on to score on the ensuing power play, and simply dominated the Lions throughout the entire first period.
The second period was much better for the Lions, who avoided taking penalties, but couldn’t beat the excellent Keith Petruzzelli until the 17th minute of the second period when Hayden Shaw managed to convert on a Desruisseaux rebound to make it 4-1. It would be the only score they would get all game.
Early in the third, the Growlers scored another power-play goal, and the game was pretty much decided. You could point to the opening minute with Gagnon’s penalty when the Growlers took control of this game and never let go.
Julien Nantel was injured during the game and did not return. He missed the next two games as well, which is worrying given that he previously missed six weeks with an injury.
Saturday afternoon, won 3-2 vs. Growlers
The Lions played a smart first period in the second game of the series, with a hermetic defence, limiting chances for the Growlers while taking advantage of their opportunities. They scored the first goal of the game on a perfect snipe by Desruisseaux to make it 1-0.
Overall, Desruisseaux played a solid game for the Lions, with a notable game-saver in the third when he backchecked hard to break a game-tying breakaway opportunity for the Growlers.
The Lions continued to control the game in the second, scoring two more power-play goals against the Growlers, who were never out of the game but just couldn’t turn the momentum in their favour. The goal by Lariviere 12 minutes into the period was when the Growlers got frustrated and the cheapshots began to accumulate.
The referees began to lose control of the game as players began to get bolder and bolder. Lions goaltender Pagliarulo had to make some important stops, with two notable glove saves, to keep the game from being tied. The Growlers even benefited from some very questionable icing calls in their favour toward the end of the game and a blatant interference on William Leblanc who could have iced the game into an empty net, but they were unable to find the tying goal, giving the Lions the hard-fought 3-2 victory.
Sunday afternoon, lost to Growlers 10-3
The lackadaisical refereeing the night before reared its head again on Sunday’s game, as Nathan Noel ran Gagnon with a high elbow that went uncalled, then Noel charged another Lions player with no consequences. Gagnon followed Noel on the ice and hit him right back. The retaliation drew a four-minute roughing penalty, breaking any rhythm the Lions were hoping to establish in the first period. The Growlers scored on the power play, the second time in three games that an early penalty by Gagnon cost the Lions.
Not long after that first goal, Marc Johnstone, who earlier in the period kneed Jonathan Joannette, beat Tristan Bérubé on a nice wraparound goal. Joannette was targeted all game by the opposition.
The Growlers beat the Lions in puck play and physicality, absolutely dominating them in all aspects of the game. Trois-Rivières had a slight glimmer of hope as Shaw scored with four seconds left in the first period to bring the score to 4-1, but that hope was short-lived, as the Growlers scored four consecutive goals in the second period. The Lions switched out goalies twice in this game as a form of mercy, not necessarily to wake up the team.
The third period was a complete mess. It started with the Lions killing the remainder of a Kevin Auger five minute major for a slewfoot. Despite the Growlers putting their best players on the ice to try to pad their stats leading 9-2, William Leblanc managed to intercept the puck and score a short-handed goal on a beautiful breakaway.
On the next play, Noel hit Joanette with a two-handed slash, which drew Brodeur to tussle with the Growler. Noel earned a double-minor and a misconduct on top of it.
Not long after that, an intense Gagnon got tangled in a positional battle in front of the net, and cross-checked a Growler in the neck, earning one penalty, then he grabbed the player and just threw punches at him, earning himself a fighting major and a game misconduct for being the aggressor. Gagnon kept challenging Growler players to fights as he was being hauled off the ice by the officials.
On the following play, Lariviere and Joannette proceeded to aggressively attack their opponents. The Growlers’ strategy was clear: derange the Lions to the point where they can’t take it any longer and engage in combat. Both Lariviere and Joannette received match penalties as a result, with the Growlers getting nothing.
There were 124 minutes of penalties given out in this game, with 87 going to the Lions. Gagnon alone received 31 penalty minutes. The frustrating week ended with a black mark on the season for the Lions, as they gave up 10 goals for the first time.
Players of the Week
It was not a good week. In stark contrast to the title of this section, the performance of the goaltender tandem needs to be highlighted for the wrong reasons. Both goalies struggled heavily, with Bérubé getting pulled in both of his starts, and Pagliarulo getting pulled after replacing Bérubé in the blowout game. It was the first time in Lions history that there was a double goalie switch in a single game.
- Tristan Bérubé, 7.92 GAA, .830 Sv%
- Carmine-Anthony Pagliarulo, 5.06 GAA, .816 Sv%
On a positive note, the Lions did have some offensive contributions, but not much.
- Hayden Shaw (3 goals)
- Olivier Archambault (1 goal, 3 assists)
- Anthony Nellis (1 goal, 2 assists)
Mathieu Gagnon’s discipline problems might catch up with him. Besides the lack of discipline he showed last week, he’s currently fifth in the league for penalty minutes. It might all earn him a conversation with the ECHL commissioner. A suspension may be warranted, and maybe the Lions could do with missing Gagnon’s antics for a few games to get back on track.
The Lions complete their homestand next week with three games free of any restrictions on attendance, and they have an opportunity to put this terrible week behind them as they play two teams who are at the bottom of their respective divisions. First on Wednesday they play against the Adirondack Thunder, then Friday and Saturday they finally faceoff against an original opponent, the Indy Fuel, the ECHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, whose roster includes Canadiens unsigned draft pick Jacob LeGuerrier.