The Trois-Rivières Lions are in the middle of the most difficult period of their season. The Montreal Canadiens’ ECHL affiliate has won just one of its last eight games, as the continued roster instability begins to take its toll on everyone, not just physically where the remaining regulars are seeing huge minutes on the ice, but also psychologically as the lack of consistency and stunting are starting to show. The coaching staff seems to be stuck in an endless loop of onboarding new players at the expense of progress in developing regulars.
With the on-ice team struggling, one need only look to the AHL to see the positive impact Montreal’s three-tier development system has already had. Peter Abbandonato, Cam Hillis and Shawn St-Amant have become Laval Rocket regulars, and Alexis D’Aoust continues his quest to land an AHL contract next season with his sixth PTO of the year on a fourth team of the AHL, earning the second star of the night with a two-point game for the Grand Rapids Griffins.
It’s definitely a double-edged sword of being an ECHL team. As soon as a player excels, he moves up a ladder, leaving behind a core of goalkeepers to keep the team together while management tries to find replacements mid-season. For the Lions, these goalies are Anthony Nellis, Olivier Archambault, Cédric Montminy, Olivier Galipeau and Mathieu Brodeur.
It would be an impossible exercise to fully document every player who joined and/or left the Lions last week. Suffice it to say, they’re up to 69 unique contracts, with several players getting a few offers to book a release. Marc-Andre Bergeron is doing his best to find players to fill roster spots, with the majority coming from the Quebec Senior AAA Hockey League now that the LNAH is banned. Of note, they signed Fabien Laniel, a 37-year-old scout for the Gatineau Olympiques. He played one game before being released.
The Lions received another blow when AHL contracted defenseman Carl Neill left the Lions to play in Europe. He was the second to do so after Charles-David Beaudoin made the trip last month.
To fill the void, the Lions acquired defenseman Gabriel Belley-Pelletier from the Fort Wayne Komets in a cash trade. The Lions don’t exactly have a lot of trade capital, nor do they want to trade the French Canadians they fought to lure to Trois-Rivieres to begin with.
At least the Manitoba Moose returned goaltender Philippe Desrosiers, who then led the team to cut Tristan Bérubé and keep Anthony-Carmine Pagliarulo. Pagliarulo ended up beating Bérubé for the substitute role after the latter began to struggle in front of the net.
Wednesday night, the Lions lose 4-3 to the Adirondacks
Following last week’s Lions/Growlers final fracas, Mathieu Gagnon was suspended for three games and Jonathan Joannette was suspended for two games, leaving the Lions scrambling to close the ranks. The game couldn’t have started worse for the Lions as Adirondack scored 15 seconds into the game on the first shot.
The Lions quickly regrouped and began to apply pressure to erase the deficit, but the tide began to turn again midway through the period, until a point shot deflected off Belley-Pelletier and overtakes Desrosiers to put the Thunder up 2-0.
It was 3-0 after two periods, as the Thunder scored with 10 seconds left on another deflection. The second period was mostly even, but against the Lions could not buy a goal.
The Lions got the third period off to a good start when Montminy rushed into the Thunder zone and kicked the puck into the net 23 seconds into the game to put them in the game.
Both teams tightened the defense but the Lions were determined and in the fourth minute it was Félix-Olivier Chouinard’s turn to light the lamp, bringing the Lions within a goal with plenty of time to play.
Unfortunately, a dominant third period would be wasted, and with two minutes left and Desrosiers fired in favor of an extra forward, the Thunder buried the goal in an empty net to put the game out of reach. William Leblanc scored his 10th goal of the season with nine seconds left, but it was too little too late as the Lions fell to the lowly Adirondack Thunder.
Friday night, the Lions lose 5-0 to Indy
The downside of following the ECHL is that due to tight budget constraints, teams tend to play within division and geographic proximity. The last time the Lions faced a non-divisional opponent was in early December against the Florida Everblades, when the Lions were at the peak of their season amid their seven-game winning streak.
This team was different. Only eight players were in the roster who were there in Florida. That’s more than a 50% turnover.
The start of the game is hesitant, the two teams study each other and take care not to make any mistakes. Only Indy managed to score on a wraparound rebound. The rest of the period was a rather timid affair.
The Lions had opportunity after opportunity to bury fuel, whether it was back-to-back power plays, a breakaway, a penalty shot for Archambault, the posts or a highly questionable disallowed goal for Tyler Boivin due to goalkeeper interference, the Lions could not take control of the game.
Two goals in 180 seconds changed everything, as Indy’s 3-0 lead seemed insurmountable. The Lions managed just 13 shots on goal after two periods, despite five power plays. The Fuel would add a few more third period goals in a sleepy game to easily take this one 5-0.
Saturday afternoon, the Lions lose 4-3 to Indy
The Lions were determined in the first half. They applied all kinds of pressure, but couldn’t get the puck past Cale Morris. Indy again scored first, but the Lions responded when William Leblanc scored the tying goal less than a minute later.
The Lions continued to apply the pressure, but just couldn’t close the deal with a decisive first-half goal. The power play was downright abysmal, but they finally scored on the power play in the second period to give the Lions their first lead of the week.
Indy would tie before the end of the period however, as they took over the game completely. A dominant start to the third period saw them regain the lead over the Lions, moving up 3-2.
Whatever the Lions left, they tried to come back, as they forced Indy into a penalty and scored a second power-play goal on the night, when Hayden Shaw’s point shot went over the goal line to bring the score to 3-3.
The Lions just ran out of gas as the Thunder took control of the period, scoring a fourth goal and blocking opportunities for Trois-Rivières. It was an unfortunate ending to a never-ending Lions game. It was their fourth straight loss.
The week featured three losses to teams at the bottom of their respective divisions. The Lions retain their grip on third place in the North Division, but they need to start picking up wins as soon as the Maine Mariners and Worcester Railers slowly close the gap.
Now comes the hardest part. The Lions travel to St. John’s for a four-game series against the Newfoundland Growlers next week. The last time these two teams met, the fireworks erupted and the three-game suspension that Mathieu Gagnon earned for his shenanigans has just expired.