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Lions get first win of the season

Head coach Eric Bélanger's Lions de Trois-Rivières were in action at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine on Saturday night for the second game of a three-game series against the Mariners. After losing the season-opener at home on Friday, the Lions aimed to bounce back and claim their first victory of the season.

Midway through the first period, the Lions’ William Leblanc made no mistake on a 2-on-1 break to score his second goal of the year. Harassed by a Mariners’ defender, the Quebecer unleashed a perfect top-corner shot which Maine goalkeeper François Brassard had no chance on, even though Leblanc scored while on his knees. Moments later, Trois-Rivières doubled its lead by capitalizing on the power play: Colin Bilek took a pinpoint pass from teammate Brett Stapley, and his accurate shot found the back of the net. It was the American forward’s first professional goal. At the opposite end of the ice, Joe Vrbetic got his first start with the Lions, and he stopped all 11 shots directed at him in the first period. The 6’6” goalkeeper showed a strong glove hand at one point to keep the score 2-0.

The Mariners ramped-up the pressure on the Trois-Rivières defense in the second period, with Maine’s Matthew Santos having an excellent scoring chance. However, Vrbetic made an outstanding pad save to maintain the Lions’ two-goal lead. At the end of the second period, however, Santos didn’t miss twice and cut the Lions’ lead in half. Positioned in the slot, the forward completed the set up from Nick Master and Mitchell Fossier to score his second goal in as many games. But Maine’s

goal seemed to revive the Lions: Trois-Rivières came very close to scoring in the dying seconds of the second period on the power play, but Bilek had what appeared to be a certain goal taken away from him by Mariners’ defender Andrew Peski. The Mariners could breathe a sigh of relief and went to the locker room only down by a goal.

Early in the third period, the Mariners’ Santos was sent in on a breakaway but Vrbetic once again stymied Maine’s number 16. It was an important save as only a few moments later, the Lions’ Bilek took a Francis Thibeault pass and scored to give the Lions a 3-1 lead with his second goal of the night. The Mariners desperately tried to get back into the game with a goal from Cameron Askew, but after that Vrbetic was rock-solid in fending off relentless pressure from the home side late in the third period.

The Lions ended up recording their first victory of the season with a 3-2 win. Colin Bilek (two goals) and Joe Vrbetic (32 saves) were the key players for the Lions. Trois-Rivières will clash with the Mariners once again Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. A win would give the Lions an impressive five out of six points in the opening weekend of the season.