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Lions Bites: A passing grade from a hellish schedule

The Lions played five games in six nights, taking six points.

Lions de Trois-Rivières

Due to chaos caused by the pandemic in December, the Lions entered the portion of their calendar where rescheduled games are taking place. As a result, they played a ridiculous five games in six nights last week. With an augmented roster playing with more confidence, it was a successful week overall, with the Lions taking six out of a possible 10 points.

Player Movement

The week began with the interesting news that veteran forward Stefan Fournier joined the team via free agency. Fournier played several seasons in Wichita, and returned there this season after a brief stint in Slovakia. He only played in two games before being released.

Adding a more familiar name to the Lions was the return of Alexis D’Aoust, coming back from his PTO with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

In addition, Cédric Montminy returned from personal leave and Hayden Shaw was back in the lineup after some minor injury concerns.

Tuesday night, Lions beat Maine 5-3

It was a slow, cautious start between the Lions and the Maine Mariners, two rivals who are in direct competition with one another for the few remaining playoff spots in the North Division, but Alexandre Fortin opened the scoring seven minutes into the first period to add to his impressive total, giving the Lions the 1-0 lead when he beat the Maine defenders with speed.

After scoring a goal from the point to give the Lions a 2-0 lead, defenceman Brenden Locke displayed his passing skills by feeding a cross-zone laser to Julien Nantel, who snapped the puck into the net for a 3-0 lead.

The Mariners made it interesting in the second, dominating the period and bringing the score to 3-2, but speed was once again the recipe for success as Cédric Montminy scored the goal that gave the Lions their two-goal lead back.

Each team would add one more goal, but the Lions took the first two points in their critically important week. They finish their season series against Maine with a record of 8-4-3-1, but both teams are still in the running for a playoff spot, and it will take a winning record going forward for one of them to get in.

Wednesday night, Lions beat Adirondack 4-2

With D’Aoust returning to the lineup, the quality of the Lions’ forward group was definitely at its highest since mid-December, and this added talent showed as the Lions completely dominated the start of this game, playing with speed and challenging every puck.

A bad penalty to Mathieu Gagnon put the Lions of the penalty kill midway through, but that didn’t stop Fortin from winning a puck battle at the Lions’ blue line and battling into the Thunder zone to score the first goal of the game.

As they have done a few times, the Lions were asleep at the start of the second period, and the Thunder scored the even-up goal 15 seconds in. Thankfully, after a pretty sloppy second period, a blast by Hayden Shaw was recovered by Tim Vanstone, who scored his first professional goal.

The line of Vanstone, Montminy, and Max Kaufman had itself a great game, dominating most shifts and giving the Lions a third-line threat for the first time in weeks. In a closely fought third period, it was that line that once again provided the offence, as Montminy fed Vanstone for his second goal of the night.

Vanstone completed the hat trick on an empty-net goal gifted to him by Montminy after the Thunder had scored a short-handed goal moments earlier to make the Lions sweat a little bit, but ultimately win 4-2 for their first two-game win streak since February 19.

Philippe Desrosiers made 37 saves on 39 shots in the win, playing what was his best start in weeks.

Head coach Eric Belanger had scratched the team’s leading scorer, Olivier Archambault “to give him some rest. He needs to be better.”

Friday night, Lions lose 5-1 to Reading

The division-leading Reading Royals, ECHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, came to town to kick off a three-game series with the Lions, and they made their mark early, scoring a goal just two minutes into the game on their first shot. The Lions made sure to lock in down quickly after that, not allowing another shot until Anthony Nellis was able to create confusion around the crease in the sixth minute and pass a trickling puck from behind the net that Locke tapped in for the equalizer.

It quickly became easy to see why the Royals are among the top teams in the league, as they attacked with persistent speed and skill. They scored their second goal at the midpoint with an incredible tip over the shoulder of Arturs Silovs, who could not react quickly enough to the tip.

The Royals added one goal in the second period, and a few more in the third, as Trois-Rivières struggled to pierce the Royals’ defensive armour with their offence. Overall the final score could have been a lot more lopsided if not for Silovs, who played a fantastic game in a losing effort, making numerous great saves.

Saturday afternoon, Lions lose 2-1

The Lions could not have asked for a better first period from their team, dominating the play, controlling the puck, and completely overwhelming the Royals with shots. Unfortunately for them, goaltender Logan Flodell stopped everything coming his way, turning aside all 15 shots directed at him in the first period.

The Lions continued to pummel the Royals, but on Archambault’s second of three minor penalties of the game, Reading managed to break the ice.

The Royals added to the lead halfway through the third period to make it 2-0, as the Lions threw everything at the Royals’ net, to no avail.

Finally, an absolutely mad goalmouth scrambled found the puck trickling onto the blade of Mathieu Gagnon, who popped it in to give the Lions hope with five minutes to play, but it would not be enough, as they lost to the Royals again.

Sunday afternoon, Lions win 4-3 in overtime

In their fifth and thankfully final game of the week, the Lions did save the best for last. Archambault was scratched once again, as was William Leblanc, who has struggled since returning from injury.

Despite the Lions getting outshot in the first period, Silovs held strong, and it was D’Aoust who scored the first goal of the game. The relentless Royals offence was held at bay in the second period, and it was at the halfway point when a brilliant pass from Montminy found Jonathan Joannette, inserted into the lineup for the aforementioned scratches, who made no mistake putting the puck past Hayden Hawkey to make it 2-0.

A scrum ensued following the goal, and Gagnon, well-known for his untimely penalties, jumped a Royals player and pummeled him into the ground. The altercation earned Gagnon another aggressor game misconduct, and put the Royals on the power play. They scored on an ensuing 4-on-4 when they too were penalized, making it 2-1 after two periods.

The Lions added another goal at the start of the third period when they won a faceoff in the Royals’ zone and controlled the play long enough for D’Aoust to snap the puck from the slot for a two-goal lead.

The Royals roared back to tie the game at three and send the game to overtime, with the Lions earning one precious point. To the delight of the 3,200 fans in attendance, Nantel gave the Lions that second point on a breakaway goal, securing their third win of the week in a huge upset over a potential first-round opponent.

Players of the week

  • Tim Vanstone (3 goals, 3 assists, 6 points)
  • Alexandre Fortin (2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points)
  • Cedric Montminy (1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points)
  • Brenden Locke (1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points)

What next?

The Lions survived their week from Hell, and now they head into a more normal schedule, but that doesn’t make the games any less important as it’s a tight three-way race for the final two playoff spots between the Lions, the Mariners, and the Worcester Railers. The Lions will in fact play two games in Worcester later this week in a critical divisional matchup, but first, a new team! On Wednesday night, the Lions will host the Cincinnati Cyclones for the first time ever, pitting the Montreal Canadiens’ current ECHL affiliate against their their most successful one ever.