The Langley Rivermen are rolling.
Langley’s B.C. Hockey League entry won its fourth straight game with a comeback, 3-2 overtime victory over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs Sunday afternoon at the Langley Events Centre.
The win improved the ’Men’s record to a solid 7-3-0-1, moving them into sole possession of first place in the BCHL Mainland Division, one point ahead of the second place Coquitlam Express (6-2-0-2) and two in front of the third place Prince George Spruce Kings (6-4-0-1).
The fact the Rivermen played three games in two-and-a-half days makes the win streak all the more impressive. They opened the weekend with a 4-3 road win over the Surrey Eagles on Friday, then trounced the Eagles 5-1 Saturday at the LEC.
“I thought we played pretty solidly both Friday and Saturday,” Rivermen head coach Bobby Henderson said.
“Saturday was pretty convincing; Surrey’s a good team. They seemed a little flat over the weekend but I’m sure we’ll see a lot more from them the next time we play them. We’ll take the four points.”
Henderson isn’t surprised by the Rivermen’s solid start.
“They’ve been a confident group right from start,” Henderson said, of his players. “Our expectation from the start of year was, we have to win every game. They totally encompass that attitude. They believe they can beat any team on any given night.”
In the early going of Sunday’s matinee match-up with the Bulldogs, the Rivermen’s streak looked to be in real jeopardy.
Even thought they generated a bunch of scoring opportunities through the opening 40 minutes, the hosts trailed 2-0 heading into the third period.
There looked to be a few sure goals, but the Rivermen hit a couple posts and didn’t seem to have any puck luck in the first two periods.
The Rivermen’s luck changed in the third. They opened the period on a powerplay, which helped generated some momentum.
Langley got on the board shortly after the powerplay ended.
Defenceman Tanner Johnson notched his second goal of the season with a slapshot from the point that found its way through traffic.
The goal seemed to give the Rivermen some extra life as they had a little more jump in their strides.
That extra jump forced Alberni Valley into taking some penalties, giving the Rivermen a chance to tie the game.
The powerplay was unsuccessful but again it put some added pressure on the Bulldogs as the Rivermen were able to score shortly after the man advantage.
A great save at the blue line by Johnson, keeping the puck in the Bulldogs’ zone, helped set up Mitch McLain behind the net. The Rivermen captain then found Matt Ustaski wide open out in front, and he made no mistake tying the game at 2-2.
From there the stage was set for overtime and one of the hottest goal scorers on the Rivermen roster finished it in style, as Austin Azurdia gave the ’Men their third overtime win of the season.
“I give them [the Bulldogs] credit; they played a really solid game and capitalized on the few chances they had,” Henderson said. “We had to work to get back in it. It was nice to get the extra point.”
Rivermen 5, Surrey Eagles 1
That sums up the Rivermen’s performance against the Eagles Saturday at the LEC.
Asked if he believed it was the Rivermen’s best game of the year thus far, Henderson said, “It’s up there, that’s for sure. In every avenue, we were clicking. There were no passengers.”
The Rivermen got off to a great start with an early goal from Azurdia who potted his fifth goal of the season, which was assisted by James Robinson and Will Cook.
It was all Rivermen right from the opening faceoff and even when the Eagles had their chances early, goaltender Brock Crossthwaite was there to make the save.
Crossthwaite earned third star of the game honours by stopping 24 of 25 shots.
In the second period, the Rivermen ran into some penalty trouble but their defence shut down one of the best power plays in the league by killing all six shorthanded situations.
The Rivermen added to their lead in the second with Johnson’s first of the season to make it 3-0 after 40 minutes.
The Rivermen continued to push in the third frame, scoring two more goals.
The final tally of the night was a beautiful powerplay marker off the stick of defenceman Chris Forney, who from the point one-timed a smooth cross ice pass from rookie Darien Craighead.
The line of Azurdia, Cook and Robinson and dominated, combining for seven points.
The game had a bit of nastiness in the third period, when McLain tangled with Surrey’s Colton Mackie behind the Eagles’ net. McLain’s helmet fell to the ice and Mackie proceeded to head butt him as they bear-hugged each other. Mackie was charged with a double minor for head butting.
Henderson believed Mackie’s actions warranted a major penalty.
“It’s up to the league’s discretion,” he said. “I thought it was deserving of a major penalty. The referee, from his perspective, didn’t feel it was an intent to injure.”
Rivermen 4, Surrey Eagles 3
The Rivermen started the weekend on the winning end of the ledger by edging the Eagles Friday at South Surrey Arena.
The visitors scored three unanswered goals in the second period to take a 4-1 lead into the final frame.
In the third period, the Eagles scored twice, including a goal from Brett Mulcahy with 11 seconds to go in the game, but then ran out of time.
Robinson opened the scoring on a Rivermen powerplay with 20 seconds remaining in the first period.
After the Eagles’ Nicolas Pierog tied the score 2:35 into the middle frame, the Rivermen took over with goals from Nathan Craft (at 8:58), McLain (at 10:23), and Azurdia (at the 13-minute mark).
Surrey’s Nicolas Pierog brought the Eagles to within a goal when he scored on an Eagles’ man advantage 3:29 into the third period.
Both teams fired 25 shots on goal. Langley goaltender Steve Myland made 22 saves to earn the win in the Rivermen net.
Heading into the weekend, the Rivermen made a trade, swapping defencemen. The ’Men acquired 6’3” rearguard Zach Urban from the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in exchange for Mark Whitely.
Urban earned an assist in his first game with the Rivermen Friday against the Surrey Eagles.
In picking up Urban, the Rivermen believe they brought in some experience and grit to an already strong defensive core that keeps getting better.
Urban has played in a 127 regular season games and 26 playoff games in the BCHL.
His career started with a short stint with the Powell River Kings in 2010/11.
He went on to play his first full season with the Penticton Vees during the 2011/12 season when he played in 58 regular season games, scoring four goals and adding 18 assists. The successful year didn’t end in the regular season for Urban as he and the Vees went on to win the 2012 RBC Cup.
Urban continued his career with the Victoria Grizzlies the following year. In 2012/13, he collected three goals and 23 assists in 54 games. He also helped lead the Grizzlies into the playoffs but Urban was unable to get back to the RBC Cup for a second straight year.
“Obviously he has the playoff experience,” Henderson said. “We felt it was invaluable to add that to our culture and it addresses some of our needs on the back end.”
This trade came with a price as the Rivermen gave up Whiteley, who had been with the team since 2011.
“It was tough to let him go,” Henderson said. “He was one of the most popular players among his teammates. At the end of the day, it was a hockey decision.”
The Rivermen play twice this weekend.
On Friday, they travel to Coquitlam’s Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre to play the Express.
Each team has beaten the other once this season, with the Express skating to a 6-2 win on Sept. 20 at the LEC and the Rivermen rallying with a 5-4 overtime victory Sept. 21 in Coquitlam.
The next night, Saturday, Oct. 12, the ’Men once again host the Eagles at the LEC. Game time is 7:15 p.m.
The Rivermen have a 2-1 edge in the season series with the Birds.
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