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Lions Bites: Leaders return while Olivier Archambault heads to Europe

It’s contract season in the ECHL, and the Lions have signed 11 players for next season.

Olivier Archambault
Lions de Trois-Rivieres

June 16, 2022, was the first day where ECHL teams could sign players to contracts for the 2022-23 season, and the Lions de Trois-Rivières did not disappoint.

The ECHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens wasted no time announcing the return of team captain Cédric Montminy and veteran Mathieu Brodeur. Both are part of the core leadership team and will help maintain some continuity for Eric Bélanger’s team.

Leaders return

Montminy was the first player acquired by the expansion Lions in a trade with the Rapid City Rush for cash back in June 2021 and was named captain at the start of the season. With the Rush, he was lauded for his leadership and community involvement, and the Sherbrooke native continued displaying these characteristics with the Lions scoring 19 goals for 38 points in 61 games. With 216 professional regular-season games (all in the ECHL), Montminy does not count as a veteran yet. A pugnacious player who plays hard within his ability along the boards and also works hard to score most of his goals from in front of the net. Basically an ECHL Brendan Gallagher.

Brodeur returns as the pillar of the defensive squad. The 6’6” gentle giant from St-Eustache will likely be asked to play large minutes once again at 32 years of age. Brodeur has an expansive hockey career, splitting 636 professional regular-season games between the AHL, ECHL, and Slovakia. He was a third-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2008 but never did make the big leagues. For a solid pillar, the downside of Brodeur is his foot speed, and the lack of exploitation of his stature to intimidate opponents. He has a very active stick and blocks shooting lanes with his long reach. All in all, despite the tumultuous season the Lions had, Brodeur finished the season at a +7 utility rating and was the only player to play in all 69 regular-season games for the Lions, scoring five goals for 19 points.

Archambault leaves for Europe

Although the Lions managed to re-sign one veteran, another one has just left the pride, as Olivier Archambault has signed overseas with HS Pusteral in the Austrian ICE Hockey League. The 29-year-old led the Lions in scoring for most of the season, eventually losing the scoring race to Anthony Nellis when injuries and healthy scratches led to him missing games down the stretch. In 51 games, he scored 19 goals for 54 points and added another five points in the playoffs. Unquestionably talented, his decision-making leaves a lot to be desired as he prefers to hold onto the puck too long, leading to avoidable turnovers. There was talk that this style of play wore thin on coach Bélanger, leading to some decisions being made. Archambault, who represented the Lions at the ECHL All-Star Classic, not seeing a path forward within the Canadiens organization, leaves for his first European excursion.

Defence begins to take form

The Lions signed an additional four defencemen this week on top of Brodeur, with Bradley Johnson, Connor Welsh, and Francis Thibeault returning for a second season. They also made a splash in free agency by adding Alex Breton.

Breton is returning from Europe where he played two seasons in the Slovak Extraliga. In his first season overseas he was the top scorer for HC Banska Bystrica, putting up 40 points in 44 games. The 24-year-old was previously named ECHL defenceman of the year in 2019-20 with the Allen Americans, where he put up 55 points in 61 games and maintained a +20 utility rating. Depending on who the Lions receive from the Laval Rocket, Breton could very well be a top-pairing offensive defenceman for the Lions this season.

Johnson, Thibeault, and Welsh both turned pro at the conclusion of their collegiate seasons, with Johnson coming out of Bemidji State University in the NCAA, while Thibeault and Welsh came out of the University of Moncton and Dalhousie University in USports, respectively. These three should fill out the third pairing and seventh defenceman roles.

A few forwards join as well

The Lions also announced the signing of five other forwards this past week, including a return for Jonathan Joannette, Nicolas Larivière, and William Leblanc, and newcomers Conner Chaulk and James Phelan.

Some may recognize Phelan, as he played a few games for the Rocket in 2019. He spent the past two seasons at the University of New Brunswick and will add experience to a young offensive core, having played a couple of professional seasons in the ECHL before going to university.

Chaulk is an interesting addition as well, as he’s a rare case of a player who completed a four-year university degree while playing in U Sports for the University of Regina straight out of junior. He launched his professional career in the spring when he traveled to the UK to play for Coventry in the EIHL, where he put up eight points in 18 games.

Joannette is a worthy success story for the Lions. He was invited to the Lions pre-camp in September, an event where the Lions were hoping to find a little depth out of the Quebec Senior AAA and Pro A circuits. He returned for the team’s training camp and was offered an ECHL contract coming out of it. A hard-nosed player who is not fancy, Joannette will absolutely bother opposing goaltenders and back up his actions — unless he can draw a penalty. He scored six goals for 13 points in 42 games.

Leblanc started the season with the Université de Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR), but left his studies to turn to pro hockey in January. This move did not exactly please les Patriotes whose relationship with their cross-town cousin was never on good terms to start with and remains strained. But Leblanc ended up transitioning to professional hockey remarkably well, quickly becoming the team’s top centreman, putting up 21 points in 22 games, and leading the team in shorthanded goals. Unfortunately, a brutal headshot in a game against the Newfoundland Growlers in March derailed his season, and when he did return two weeks later he was a shell of his former self. A second headshot prior to the playoffs kept him off of the Lions' playoff roster and ended his season prematurely.

Larivière signed with the Lions during the time they were signing players out of the LNAH to fill out a lineup. He ended up staying with the Lions for the remainder of the season, ruffling a lot of feathers in the LNAH, as he was a top player for Thetford Mines. With the Lions, his imposing 6’4” made him a decent physical presence, scoring nine goals for 20 points in 41 games.

There’s still work to be done

Despite signing 11 players thus far, there remains some work for general manager Marc-André Bergeron, with the main players needing contracts being Alexis D’Aoust and Olivier Galipeau, along with goaltender Louis-Philip Guindon. These players are certainly flight risks to find contracts in the AHL or in Europe. Veteran player Mathieu Gagnon is also looking for a contract, but given how he struggled to remain in the lineup with the Lions last season, bouncing between forward and defence, it might be hard to justify his veteran status and he might not get qualified. Also needing a deal is Tim Vanstone.

It’s pretty certain that Guillaume Beaudoin and Julien Nantel will be qualified by the Lions, along with Archambault and Nellis, to keep their playing rights, but they will not be signing with the Lions. If a player isn’t signed before then, qualifying offers are due on June 30 to retain their rights and continue negotiations.