The Lions de Trois-Rivières, the ECHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, are anxiously awaiting the start of their second season. The first season was filled with lots of highs and some hard-to-believe lows, but the team’s inaugural season culminated with a thrilling seven-game playoff series against the Newfoundland Growlers.
Since then, the Lions have been busy off the ice building their roster for the coming season, but it’s not come without challenges.
As expected, many players used the high-profile opportunity of playing for the Lions to improve their financial prospects. Four of the team’s five top forwards have crossed the Atlantic as Anthony Nellis (Slovak Extraliga, HK Spisska Nova Ves), Olivier Archambault (ICEHL, HL Pustertal), Alexis D’Aoust (HockeyAllsvenskan, Vasterviks IK), and Shawn St-Amant (ICEHL, Black Wings Linz) have all signed with teams in Europe. In addition, AHL-contracted players who had an impact for the Lions, Justin Ducharme and Alexandre Fortin, signed with other AHL organizations, and veteran utility player Mathieu Gagnon also chose Europe.
But the Lions also served their purpose as a development team for the Laval Rocket as forward Peter Abbandonato and defenceman Olivier Galipeau both signed AHL contracts with the Rocket and should spend time there.
Other players decide that the ECHL life is not for them and simply retire from hockey to go into the workforce. Tim Vanstone took a job with a pipeline company in Alberta as a marketing analyst, and goaltender Louis-Philip Guindon, acquired in the Lions' final trade of the season, retired and went to work for a pharmaceutical company.
That is a significant core of players who will not be available for the Lions this upcoming season.
It was not a complete exodus from the Lions in the off-season, starting with goaltender Philippe Desrosiers who signed an AHL deal with the Rocket with the goal of playing in Trois-Rivières where he has settled with family. Team captain Cédric Montminy signed a new contract to remain with the Lions, as did hulking defender Mathieu Brodeur. William Leblanc will hopefully re-emerge as an offensive leader after having difficulty returning from multiple concussions last season, and depth players Nicolas Larivière and Jonathan Joannette complete the group of returning forwards.
To compensate for the losses to Europe, the Lions signed defensive forward James Phelan who returns to pro after a two-year hiatus to attend the University of New Brunswick, Nicolas Guay, who also spent two seasons at UNB, and rookie Conner Chaulk who split the season between the University of Regina and the Coventry Blaze of the English Ice Hockey League.
These additions are certainly welcome, but it feels like the team is missing a high-end forward to make up for the losses so the team will need to rely on a significant helping hand from the Rocket, notably Anthony Beauregard and Emile Poirier who return from a season in Europe and signed two-way deals with Laval. The addition of Pierrick Dubé might also bolster the lineup if he signs with the Lions and can carry over his strong finish in junior to his return with the Lions. He is currently with the Canadiens rookie team.
Perhaps the biggest off-season addition is the signing of former ECHL Defenceman of the Year Alex Breton who returns from two years of playing in Slovakia. He will certainly be the team’s top defender, and if Olivier Galipeau returns to the Lions on a loan from the Rocket, that would give the team three top defencemen when you include Brodeur. The rest of the defensive corps is made of returnees Philippe Bureau-Blais, Bradley Johnson, Francis Thibeault, and Connor Welsh. Out of that group, Thibeault looked the best last season before suffering a season-ending injury. If the Rocket also loan Santino Centorame to the Lions, then the defence should be pretty well set.
In goal, the Lions recently announced the signing of rookie goaltender Thomas Sigouin. However, questions remain whether the Lions will run a three-goalie rotation with Desrosiers and Joe Vrbetic who also signed an AHL deal, but appears to be the odd man out in Laval with Cayden Primeau and Kevin Poulin settled nicely.
ECHL training camps begin on October 7, and any lingering roster questions should begin to be answered.