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Lions de Trois-Rivières head into new year with changes and challenges

Four games this week will test the pride.

Brett Stapley out with an injury
Lions de Trois-Rivières

The Lions de Trois-Rivières finished off 2022 with difficulty, dealing with a significant number of call-ups as six regulars found themselves with the Laval Rocket. In addition, Colin Bilek was recalled to the Manitoba Moose and Alex Breton remained on a PTO with the Belleville Senators. That’s a total of eight regulars missing from the lineup, which certainly presented Marc-André Bergeron with an immense challenge. Especially since Brett Stapley was out with an injury for the last two games.

Despite this, the Lions did win two of their last five games, and four of their last 10. It’s not a great record, but it’s also not setting them too far back, only five points out of the final playoff spot. Ryan Francis and Nicolas Larivière each had four points over the last five games, and Nicholas Guay had three.

The Lions start off the new calendar year with a roar, first facing the Maine Mariners, the team they are chasing for fourth place in the division, on Wednesday, followed by their first visit to Newfoundland of the season, for a brutal three games in three days against the conference-leading Growlers.

Thankfully some reinforcements arrived, as Bilek returned from a stint with the Moose, adding much-needed firepower for the Lions, as well as Joe Vrbetic, who returned to the Lions with Cayden Primeau returning to action. Francis Marotte has done admirably as backup for the Lions with two wins in four starts and a .906 save percentage, but Vrbetic is certainly a welcome addition.

There may be some more personnel returning as well from the AHL, as Belleville is currently holding nine defencemen on its roster, so perhaps Breton will be released from his PTO in time for the trip to St. John’s.

Don’t expect any of the others to return from the Laval Rocket anytime soon, as the Rocket deal with a multitude of injuries. For now, Bergeron won’t be able to count on Olivier Galipeau, Santino Centorame, Anthony Beauregard, Pierrick Dubé, or John Parker-Jones. Of these, Galipeau and Dubé are probably making good cases for longer auditions as well.

The Lions made a personnel decision on Monday to release forward Karl El-Mir, whom they traded for a mere few weeks earlier. They will still owe Orlando future considerations in return. Conner Chaulk was placed yet again on the injured reserve, James Phelan was placed on the Comissioner’s Exempt List (usually a designation used when a player contracts COVID-19), and Chrystopher Collin was placed on bereavement leave.

To replenish their ranks, the Lions first signed reputed veteran pugilist Pierre-Luc Leblond-Letourneau. At 37 years old, he’s certainly not a long-term solution, but will definitely make his presence felt. The Lions turned to him for one game last season as well, in which he notched seven minutes in penalties. He hasn’t played since.

The Lions also loaned forward Matthew Barron from the SPHL Evansville Thunderbolts. He had a productive ECHL debut earlier in the season with the Indy Fuel, with three points in four games. Trois-Rivières has also signed forward Olivier Ouellet and defenceman Zackary Riel from the Quebec Senior AAA Hockey League.

It’s with this roster that the Lions will attempt to get back into contention this week, but the task does not promise to be easy.

Goaltenders: Philippe Desrosiers, Francis Marotte

Defencemen: Philippe Bureau-Blais, Francis Thibeault, Jason Horvath, Mathieu Brodeur, Connor Welsh, Bradley Johnson, Zackary Riel

Forwards: Colin Bilek, Cédric Montminy, Ryan Francis, Nicolas Guay, Nicolas Larivière, Riley McKay, William Leblanc, Jonathan Joannette, Matthew Barron, Brett Stapley, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Olivier Ouellet

Injured/Unavailable: Conner Chaulk, James Phelan, Chrystopher Collin

In the AHL: Thomas Beauregard, Alex Breton, Olivier Galipeau, John Parker-Jones, Pierrick Dubé, Santino Centorame