The Lions were looking for a second consecutive victory over Canadian rivals the Newfoundland Growlers on Saturday night, with goaltending responsibilities handed over to Joe Vrbetic.
Saturday’s game was the second of a three-games-in-three-days series between the teams. It was clear from the get-go that head coach Eric Wellwood and his Growlers had no intention of letting the Lions extend their winning streak. At the 34-second mark Newfoundland’s Nolan Walker took advantage of a Vrbetic miscue to open the scoring: Stationed behind the net, the Growlers forward got lucky when his centering pass hit Vrbetic's stick and snuck in behind the goal line. The Lions best chance came near the end of the period when Nicolas Guay picked up a loose puck following a face-off in the Growlers’ zone, but unfortunately for the Trois-Rivières forward, Newfoundland goaltender Dryden McKay made a spectacular glove save to keep the score 1-0. Some undisciplined play resulted in the Lions giving the Growlers a two-man advantage power play, and it didn’t take the home side long to extend their lead to 2-0 when Zach O'Brien let loose a rocket from the blue line.
The Growlers once again had a power play opportunity at the start of the second period and Zach Solow finished a terrific set-up from Pavel Gogolev and O'Brien to make the score 3-0. Minutes later Solow was at it again when he went in alone on Vrbetic who was able to make the initial save, but the forward grabbed his own rebound to score his second goal of the game. Lions’ head coach Marc-André Bergeron then tried to light a spark under his team by replacing Vrbetic with Francis Marotte. The strategy initially seemed to work as the Lions applied greater pressure in the Newfoundland zone. Both Colin Bilek and Ryan Francis had good chances, but McKay was up to the challenge. However, a few moments later the Lions’ Jonathan Joannette jumped on a William Leblanc rebound to trim the Newfoundland lead to three goals. With less than five minutes to go in the second period, Trois-Rivières capitalized on a power play opportunity when Francis completed a tic-tac-toe with Guay and Cédric Montminy to make the score 4-2.
The Lions started the third period strongly, but Nicolas Larivière and Leblanc were unable to make the most of their opportunities. Newfoundland then took matters into their own hands at the midway mark of the period with two goals of their own in the space of two minutes. Gogolev and Todd Skirving each scored to extinguish any hopes the Lions had. But all was not lost when Montminy took advantage of a nice pass from Matthew Barron to score his third goal in two games at the 18:13 mark of the period. The Growlers’ Keenan Suthers then finished the night with an empty net goal in the waning seconds to make the final score 7-3.
It was a night to forget for the Lions, who never quite found their mojo. Head coach Marc-André Bergeron and Co. will have a chance for redemption on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. when the teams will go at it for a third and final time this weekend.