The Family Day long weekend started with a bang and ended with a fizzle for the Langley Rivermen.
The ’Men opened the weekend Friday with a 6-3 win over the Victoria Grizzlies, the best team in the B.C. Hockey League, at the Langley Events Centre.
On Saturday, the good feelings from beating the Grizz were flushed away somewhat by the Merritt Centennials, who shut out the Rivermen 5-0 at the LEC.
Langley finished the weekend with a 4-1 loss to the host Surrey Eagles on Family Day Monday.
Asked if the players had an emotional let-down after playing so well on Friday, Rivermen head coach Bobby Henderson answered, "That might be part of it."
The bench boss added, "The guys were working through the weekend, but we didn’t get too many bounces. We had a couple of breakdowns, but all in all I think we competed pretty hard. It’s a long season and we’re going to have some ups and downs. We have to get back on the horse."
The 1-2 weekend drops the Rivermen’s record to 19-21-1-5, as they continue to sit fourth in the BCHL’s Mainland pision, three points up on the Coquitlam Express (20-28-1-0).
The ’Men have three games in hand on the Express in the ongoing dogfight for the fourth and final playoff position in the Mainland.
Henderson said the Rivermen players aren’t happy with the weekend results.
"They expect better of themselves," he said.
Surrey Eagles 4,
The ’Men and Eagles squared off on Family Day for a rare Monday afternoon tilt.
It was the eighth and final time the teams would play one another and it was the Eagles with a 6-1 win advantage in the season series, coming into the game.
The Birds have been one of the most dominant teams all year in the BCHL and have sat at the top of the Mainland for more than a month.
Goaltenders James Barr (Langley) and Michael Santaguida (Surrey) faced each other in between the pipes for a third time in 17 days.
Early on, the Rivermen got into penalty trouble, taking two early minors, but managed to kill both of them off.
However, the ’Men would take a third straight minor and the Eagles capitalized on their third man advantage.
With just a couple of seconds left in the penalty, Surrey’s Nicholas Pierog started a rush down the right wing and fired a shot on Barr which deflected off the body of Kevin Kilistoff going hard to the net. The puck found its way into the goal.
The Eagles carried a 1-0 lead into the first intermission and led 16-9 in the shots category.
The second period was much of the same, except Langley had four power plays, but could not solve Santaguida on any of the opportunities.
Brady Shaw scored the lone goal of the frame on a fantastic breakaway move in tight on Barr.
The Eagles made it 3-0 early in the third period off a highlight-reel goal from Shaw.
The Eagles forward went one on one with a Rivermen defenceman, and pulled off a perfectly executed spin-o-rama before stuffing home a backhand shot past Barr.
It was an unbelievable effort and had the crowd at the South Surrey Arena buzzing for quite some time.
Just over six minutes later, Drew Best scored the Birds’ second power play goal on a redirection in the slot to make it 4-0.
The Rivermen ruined the shutout bid when Mario Puskarich netted his first goal in six games. Tanner Johnson made the play happen as he made a great pass to Puskarich on a two on one. The Rivermen’s top scorer then rifled a shot blocker side for his 31st of the year.
That would be all the ’Men would get as they Eagles skated away with three-goal victory.
In the end, Barr once again faced more than 40 shots in a losing cause for a second straight game. Santaguida meanwhile, earned his league leading 25th win on the year, stopping 20 shots.
Merritt Centennials 5, Rivermen 0
Coming off one of their best efforts of the season, the Rivermen ran into a formidable foe Saturday.
The Merritt Centennials paid their first and only visit to the Langley Events Centre.
Coming into the game, the Cents led the season series 1-0 after picking up a win back Sept. 28 at the Nicola Valley Arena. Langley was coming off a huge 6-3 win over Victoria on Friday night, while the Cents edged the defending national champion Penticton Vees 1-0.
Barr went up against counterpart Russell Sanderson in net.
Merritt came out of the gates with great jump and the Cents’ hard work paid off with a goal from Scott Patterson at the 8:22 mark. After Barr made a couple of saves, a scramble ensued around the net and the puck ended up laying on the goal line for a few seconds and then was cleared off a Rivermen stick to the slot where Patterson rifled home the game’s first goal with Barr out of the net.
The Cents then took advantage of a five-on-three power play shortly after.
Sebastien Pare walked in off the left wing wall and ripped home a shot from the slot underneath Barr’s blocker.
The Cents dominated the first period, scoring the only two goals while outshooting the ’Men 20-7.
The home team would have a better second period, but still could not solve the Cents back-up netminder.
Merritt captain Brent Fletcher scored the frame’s lone goal on a shorthanded goal, set up by Regan Sequila on a perfectly executed two-on-one.
Barr stopped 14 of 15 pucks, while Sanderson turned aside all 14 he faced.
Sequila and Derek Huisman put the Rivermen away in the final 20 as the Cents came away with a convincing five-goal win.
Sanderson picked up his first career BCHL shutout stopping all 32 shots.
Barr was busy all night, seeing 48 pucks.
Victoria Grizzlies 3
The Rivermen tamed a Victoria Grizzlies team that, for most of the season, has been the dominant species in the B.C. Hockey League.
The Grizz came into the game as the top team in the BCHL and were the story around the league with the amazing turnaround from last season.
Barr got the call in net for the Rivermen, while Michael Stiliadis tended goal for Victoria.
The Rivermen opened the scoring on an early power play at the 1:35 mark.
Evan Campbell took a pass from Mark Whiteley along the right wing, looked off a pass and fired home a perfect shot top corner past Stiliadis.
A couple of minutes later, Langley’s Mitch McLain scored to make it 2-0 as he finished a nice pass from Matt Ustaski behind the Grizzlies’ net.
Just over a minute later, Austin Azurdia pounced on a loose rebound and whacked the puck out of mid-air and into the net for his 16th of the year. All three of the goals were scored before the five minute mark and the Azurdia goal chased Stiliadis from the game. Brady Rouleau came in and shut the door for the remaining 15 minutes, but Langley took a 3-0 lead into the second period.
Just over the two minute mark, Azurdia stole the puck shorthanded in his own end and raced down to the other end of the rink before beating Rouleau between the legs for his second of the game.
At the 5:24 mark, the Grizzlies finally got on the board with a goal from Turner Lawson off a nice pass from Keyler Bruce.
Then, with under five minutes to go, the Rivermen’s Derek Sutliffe finished off a pretty passing play with his linemates. Ustaski found McLain down the right wing in the Grizzlies’ zone. McLain then spotted the speedy left winger past the defence to make it a 5-1 game.
Before time ran out, the Rivermen’s James Robinson took a perfect pass from Azurdia behind a Grizzlies’ defender and went blocker side on Rouleau for his seventh of the campaign.
The Grizzlies saved their best period for last, scoring the only two goals from Leo and Myles Fitzgerald, but it would not be enough. The best Langley chance came from Robinson on a breakaway, but he was absolutely robbed by Rouleau who looked down and out, but stuck out the glove to keep the puck out of the net.
In the end, the ’Men won by a three-goal margin to sweep the season series.
Barr picked up his second straight win facing 38 shots, while Azurdia recorded his second straight three-point night and received first star honours.
The Rivermen still have three more games left this week starting Thursday in Prince George. It’s the first of back-to-back nights playing the Spruce Kings at the Prince George Coliseum.
"PG" will be the ’Men’s temporary home for a couple of days, which could be good for the players, Henderson said.
"It’s something I wish we could have done earlier in the year," Henderson said. "It’s good for team bonding, good to spend time together as a group."
The ’Men then return to home ice on Sunday (Feb. 17) when they host the Nanaimo Clippers at the LEC. Opening puck drop is 2 p.m.
Points will be at a premium with Coquitlam nipping at their heels only three points back.