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Lions Bites: Carolina Dreamin’

It’s never a boring week for the Canadiens’ ECHL affiliate.

South Carolina Stingrays/Brian Stone

The Lions de Trois-Rivières made their way down south last week, for the first time visiting two teams from the South Division, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits and the South Carolina Stingrays, the ECHL affiliates of the Florida Panthers and the Washington Capitals, respectively. They would collect only three points out of a possible eight as the Lions continue to tumble down the standings.

Player movement

Headlining the weekly roster discussion last week was the unexpected trade on Friday of Cédric Desruisseaux’s ECHL playing rights by the Lions to the Wheeling Nailers. General manager Marc-André Bergeron was looking for some defensive reinforcements after the departures Carl Neill and Charles-David Beaudoin, so he made a trade with Wheeling for defenceman Jesse Lees. The only problem was that after the trade was completed, Lees notified the Lions that he was retiring, so the Lions were left with no immediate help on defence, and a weapon less on offence. The Rocket retain Desruisseaux’s AHL playing rights. The entire debacle is documented in Le Nouvelliste.

Alexandre Fortin was loaned to the Lions by the Rocket for their Carolina swing. Fortin was meant to start the season in Trois-Rivières, but injuries in Laval and Montreal necessitated his stay at the AHL level. With Cédric Paquette and Nate Schnarr being assigned to the Rocket, room finally ran out for Fortin.

There was some good news on the injury front as William Leblanc and Julien Nantel returned to the lineup.

Wednesday night, Lions lose to Swamp Rabbits 2-1

It was the Lions’ first visit to Carolina, and as is customary for the team, a new opponent calls for cautious opening minutes. The Swamp Rabbits controlled the first period entirely, and despite the Lions getting shots on net, they seemed to be in for a long night.

All it took, however, was a shift of chaos from Olivier Archambault to circle the Swamp Rabbits’ zone and disorient the defence before setting up Ryan Romeo for his first professional goal to give the Lions the 1-0 lead.

Unfortunately this was the only bright spot, as the Swamp Rabbits tied it one minute later, and basically undid all the caution and careful play of the first.

The Swamp Rabbits completely dominated the Lions in the second period, controlling large swaths of time, but goaltender Arturs Silovs was able to resist. It was a stalemate after two periods, and it remained for the majority of the third.

Just as it was looking like the game would be going to overtime, the Swamp Rabbits scored the winning goal with two minutes left in the third, and then made sure to not give the Lions a single opportunity to pull their goalie before the buzzer sounded.

It was generally a tightly played game, but a loss nonetheless for a Lions team that needs to get increasingly desperate for wins.

Friday night, Lions lose 3-0 to Stingrays

In the first-ever meeting between the Lions and the South Carolina ECHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals, Stringrays goaltender Hunter Shepard had himself quite the night, earning a 32-save shutout as he stopped what little offence the Lions were able to throw his way.

It wasn’t a particularly bad game for the Lions, but simple defensive mistakes ended up being the difference as the Stingrays scored one goal in each period, including their second nine seconds into the middle frame.

Philippe Desrosiers did what he could in net for the Lions, but without goal support there was little that he could do alone.

Saturday night, Lions win 5-2 vs. Stingrays

The game started with a very fast pace, as both teams jockeyed for position with speed and determination. It was good to see the Lions able to play competitively after weeks of careful back-to-basics playing due to roster limitations. Talent is returning to the lineup, and it is starting to show.

Max Kaufman displayed a lot speed and composure in traffic at one point, showing why he was offered an AHL contract over an ECHL one. He was promoted to the Lions’ top line for this game.

Unfortunately, the Stingrays did score first, as Mathieu Gagnon bobbled the puck on the blue line, which allowed Alex Brink to speed out of the Stingrays’ zone on a breakaway, beating Silovs between the pads.

The Lions only had two shots midway through the first period, but all it took was one opportunity for the top line to tie it up, as Tim Vanstone caused a turnover in the Lions’ zone and broke out through the neutral zone, he passed it to Nellis, who tried to centre it to Kaufman, but the pass was blocked. Nellis recovered it behind the net right away, and completed his intended pass to Kaufman, who scored his first professional goal to tie the game at one.

Fortin gave the Lions the lead on a five on-three power play as they comfortably established themselves in the Stingrays’ zone. He and Connor Welsh passed the puck back and forth until Fortin saw the opening and took the shot to give the Lions a 2-1 lead, which nearly stood though 40 minutes of play. The Stingrays did score the equalizer toward the end of the second period on one of those fancy between-the-legs moves, but the Lions broke through in the third period.

First it was Fortin scoring his second goal of the game when he grabbed his own rebound and put the puck between the legs of the Stingrays goaltender. Then the newly formed line of Brenden Locke, Julien Nantel, and Archambault attacked with speed and precision, completely mystifying the South Carolina defenders to give the Lions a 4-2 lead.

The same line would hit the post, and then later add another goal toward the end to give the Lions a much-needed win.

Sunday afternoon, Lions lose 5-4 in overtime

All the games in the series with South Carolina were competitive, and the rubber match was probably the most exciting as both teams decided to leave it all on the ice to try to take the last two points.

Both teams traded chances in the first period, but the goaltenders, Desrosiers and Shepard, held strong. The Lions were the ones to play to the horn in this period, as Fortin scored the opening goal with two seconds left in the period.

A recurring bad habit of late, the Lions gave up an early goal in the second to lose the lead, and then the Stingrays added two more goals to go up 3-1 midway through the game, but a power-play opportunity gave Fortin his second goal on a spin-o-rama, his fourth of the weekend to bring the Lions within one goal.

The Lions tied it early in third period on Francis Thibeault’s first professional goal in his second pro game. The 6’2”, 23-year-old defenceman is looking very promising as an addition to the team.

The Stingrays scored another go-ahead goal, but 20 seconds later the Lions tied it up on a nice passing play between Nellis, Vanstone, and Mathieu Brodeur, the latter of whom sniped the goal to take the teams to overtime. Unfortunately, the Lions lost the extra point.

Players of the week

  • Alexandre Fortin made a huge impact in his first week with the Lions, scoring four goals.
  • Anthony Nellis, Olivier Archambault, and Brenden Locke each had three points

What’s next

The Lions now sit outside of a playoff spot, in fifth place in the North Division, passed by the Maine Mariners for the final qualifying position. There won’t be much time to reflect either, as the Lions are in the midst of an insane schedule of eight games in 10 nights, a result of rescheduled games due to the pandemic shutdown.

Starting Tuesday, the Lions will play five games in six nights in a critical homestand against division rivals. It starts with Maine on Tuesday, then Adirondack on Wednesday, then three games in three nights against the division-leading Reading Royals.