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Lions Bites: Declawed in Newfoundland

The short-handed Lions were no match for a stacked Growlers lineup.

Newfoundland Growlers

The Lions de Trois-Rivières traveled to the wonderful city of St. John’s to take on the rival Newfoundland Growlers in a four-game Canadian ECHL derby. They return home to Trois-Rivières with a meagre two points out of a possible eight and with a significant loss to their lineup as William Leblanc was injured after an awful hit in the first game.

Player Movement

We saw a significant change of philosophy for the Lions this past week. So far in their inaugural season the Lions have steadfastly promoted themselves as the minor pro AA team of Québec, with exclusively players from the province, or at least French-speaking. Sure there were some players assigned to the team who were from outside (Hayden Shaw, Cameron Hillis, Arsen Khisamutdinov), but overall, all players signed directly by the Lions were French-speaking. And this is fine. It’s a good way to build community goodwill and groundswell support in a league where ticket sales are the primary revenue driver. Québec is filled with talented players, so the Lions’ vision for their team was sound.

Things changed recently, however, when the Lions’ lifeline, the LNAH pro A league, decided to close their doors to any further player loans to the Lions, threatening an 18-month suspension to any player who dared sign with the ECHL, and the Lions specifically. Suddenly, capable fill-ins like Maxime St-Cyr and Philippe Bureau-Blais became unavailable.

The Lions turned to the next-highest-calibre league in Québec, the Québec Senior AAA Hockey League (LHSAAAQ) in a bid to remain true to their identity, but even there any player who signed an LNAH reserve contract would also be subject to suspension, so you can argue that the best players from that circuit were also not available. Tommy Veilleux, property of the LNAH St-George Cool FM, recently signed with the Lions after his LHSAAAQ team was eliminated from the playoffs, so the threat of suspension will be tested in his case.

When traveling down south earlier in the season, the Lions managed to sign a few locals playing in the American pro A Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) as well, but they too were not a long-term solution, as the results started to show.

This week, Marc-André Bergeron made the correct decision to forego inflexibility, and signed two intriguing prospects outside of the previous rigid constraint. First he signed defenceman Ryan Romeo out of Brockport from NCAA Division III who made the 2022 All-Conference Team, as well as Defenceman of the Year and Player of the Year awards. Then the Lions signed forward Tim Vanstone out of the University of Calgary, where he was captain. He was also captain with the Prince Albert Raiders, and is held in high esteem for his work ethic. He has yet to play, however.

The signing of these two non-francophone players will provide the Lions with an injection of talent, and ultimately the fans won’t be too bothered by these and upcoming similar decisions, provided the team starts building some positive momentum.

Also of note, Olivier Archambault remained day-to-day all week, and missed all the games against the Growlers.

Wednesday night, Lions beat the Growlers 5-3

The last time these two teams met, the game was overcome with high emotion, as a total of 129 penalty minutes were handed out, and three Lions players were suspended. Unfortunately, the player who triggered all the hostilities last time, Growler Nathan Noel, got away without any supplemental discipline. This lack of punishment certainly emboldened him, as he once again behaved on the wrong side of line, as he took a run at Lions forward William Leblanc with an elbow to the face in the third period. It was an ugly scene as Leblanc lay on the ice for a few minutes, while Noel earned himself a match penalty for an illegal check to the head.

Noel was hit with a four-game suspension the following day, while Leblanc had a broken nose, broken teeth, and suffered from extreme headaches, indicating a potential concussion. He was listed as week-to-week, meaning that he would miss the remainder of the games against the Growlers and then some.

It was an unfortunate incident during a rather good game for the Lions, who lost the lead in the third period, fell behind 3-2, and then scored three goals in the final 75 seconds of play to complete the miraculous comeback for the win.

First Nicolas Larivière scored a short-handed goal on a rare sloppy defensive play by the Growlers around their own net.

Seconds later, the Growlers took a tripping penalty, and it ended up costing them the game as Larivière once again scored after initially being stopped by Petruzzelli. An empty-netter gave the Lions the 5-3 win, taking the first two points of the series.

Friday night, Growlers beat the Lions 6-1

The Lions played the game short one player because they were unable to find a suitable replacement for Leblanc on time, and Olivier Archambault was still not ready to return to the lineup from injury. With such offensive talent constraints, it is no surprised that the Lions offered very little in terms of resistance to the strong Growlers team.

Mathieu Gagnon was able to tie the game late in the first period at 1-1, but the Growlers scored a backbreaking go-ahead goal with four seconds left in the first period, from which the Lions never recovered.

The Growlers added one goal in the second period, and three more in the third period as a short-staffed and exhausted Lions team struggled to contain the Growlers’ depth.

The game saw no real physical altercations stemming from Wednesday night’s incident at least, as the Lions could not afford to lose anyone further to injury or suspension.

Saturday night, Growlers beat the Lions 9-4

Well, the game started well enough for the Lions who played with 10 forwards again as Kevin Auger rejoined the team. They scored the first goal of the game for the first time since February 26 (eight games) when Anthony Nellis streaked into the Growlers’ zone a minute into the game and whipped the puck at Petruzzelli, who couldn’t control the puck and gave a big rebound. It came out to Cedric Montminy, who lobbed it toward the net, and it happened to hit Nellis as he came around from behind the net and dribbled in.

The Lions continued the pressure they established since the start of the game to convert on a second goal, when Jonathan Joannette double-pumped a fake shot, and passed it to Mathieu Gagnon, who was wide-open in the slot.

It was 2-0 after the first 20 minutes of play. How I wish the game ended there.

The Growlers came out for the second period absolutely incensed and dominated the Lions right from puck drop. Two goals scored within 16 seconds of one another in the second minute of play tied the game up, and they added a third goal in the fifth minute to take the lead.

The Lions offered some pushback, but they couldn’t even get a shot on net. To make matters worse, Nellis appeared to injure himself on a collision into the boards with Growler Tyler Bolland, having a hard time getting back to his feet, but he eventually returned to the game.

The Lions’ first shot on net of the period came in the 15th minute of play, on a power play. Their first even-strength shot in the 17th minute was a game-tying goal by Montminy.

The Growlers took the lead back 11 seconds later, and would add one more goal before the end of the second period for a 5-3 edge.

The pummeling continued in the third period as the Growlers scored three straight goals in the first half. The game eventually ended 9-4, as the Lions just did not have any answer for the Growlers once again, registering only seven shots on net in the last two periods.

Sunday afternoon, Lions lose 5-4 to the Growlers

In a carbon copy of Friday’s first period, the Lions gave up the first goal of the game as the zone opened right up after two Lions players collided with one another.

After killing a five-on-three penalty, the Lions did manage to tie the game up on a nice passing play in front of the Growlers’ goal between Cédric Desruisseaux and Kevin Auger. It culminated in Auger’s first pro goal, and a pretty one at that.

Just like Friday, the tying goal gave the Lions some momentum, but the Growlers scored a go-ahead goal toward the end of the first period to once again put the Lions on their hind paws.

The Growlers scored a short-handed goal a minute into the second period to take a two-goal lead, and then scored again halfway through, despite the Lions dominating the shot counter. The game was 4-1 at this point, but the Lions persisted and took control of the period when Desruisseaux scored on a breakaway.

Once again the Growlers replied late in the period, making it 5-2 with 20 minutes left to play.

The Lions made it interesting in the third period, scoring two goals in the first half of the third, but the Growlers completely shut down the offence, limiting them to six shots and taking the final game by a score of 5-4.

Desruisseaux had four points, being involved in every Lions goal, and was generally the Lions’ most dangerous offensive threat. It was a huge improvement over the second and third games of the series where he was pretty ineffective.

Players of the Week

  • Cédric Desruisseaux (2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points)
  • Nicolas Larivière (3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points)
  • Anthony Nellis (2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points)
  • Cédric Montminy (1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points)

What’s next?

The Lions return to Trois-Rivières this week to take on three different divisional rivals on three straight nights. First on Wednesday it’s the Worcester Railers, then the Growlers again on Thursday, and finally the Maine Mariners on Friday. Hopefully the Lions can get some players back from the Rocket or from injury, or it could be another difficult week ahead, especially hearing that team captain Cédric Montminy suffered an injury on Sunday.