All in all, it was a fantastic B.C. Hockey League home opener for the Langley Rivermen.
The Rivermen trounced the visiting Alberni Valley Bulldogs 7-0 Saturday at the Langley Events Centre, to improve to 2-1-0-1 on the season.
Another encouraging sign: the 2,235 fans who took in the game, making for a raucous atmosphere inside the LEC.
"I think it definitely made a difference," Rivermen head coach Bobby Henderson said, regarding the large turnout of fans. "The guys have been waiting a long time to play at home, especially the new recruits, and to have more butts in the seats made it a special evening for the guys. Hopefully we can build on the momentum."
The Bulldogs, who lost 6-2 to the Coquitlam Express the night before, continued their road struggles in Langley.
As for the home team, looking to erase the memory of its 19-35-1-5 regular season mark from 2011/12, there were plenty of encouraging signs.
Rookie Ben Butcher, son of former NHL defenceman Garth, had a night to remember, along with his linemates. The Bellingham native notched a hat trick and a pair of helpers while returnee Mario Puskarich also had a big night with two goals and three assists. The third member of the line, Evan Campbell, put up a goal and two helpers in his season debut.
"All three of them are very talented players," Henderson said. "With Campbell being hurt the last little while, we didn't know what kind of chemistry they were going to have."
The 'Men came out of the gates flying and fed off the crowd's energy early on. Austin Azurdia stretched his point streak to four games by opening the scoring on the powerplay. Azurdia was the beneficiary of a nifty cross-crease pass from Trevor Cope down low at the side of the net. Azurdia made no mistake, slipping a shot past Bulldogs' netminder Adam Todd.
A little more than two minutes later, Puskarich scored his first of the season on a great individual effort on the powerplay. The Rivermen's top goal-scorer from last year made a spectacular one-on-one move on a 'Dog defender down the right wing before ripping a snap shot low blocker for his first of the season.
The powerplay was the difference in the opening frame as Langley scored on two of three man advantage opportunities.
The second period scoring got started quickly with Butcher cashing in on a powerplay just over a minute in. On a desperation play on the rush, Butcher poked a pass that was out of his reach towards the net and somehow took Todd by surprise to make it 3-0 Rivermen.
Later on in the period, Puskarich notched his second of the game on a beautiful set up by Bo Pellah. The slick, play-making defenceman spotted a wide-open Puskarich at the backdoor. After taking the cross-ice feed, Puskarich smacked home a perfect shot to make it a 4-0 game.
The second stanza was penalty-riddled to say the least as the referees handed out 82 penalty minutes combined.
The Rivermen turned the game into a blowout in the final frame.
Butcher opened up the scoring for the second straight period, jamming home a loose puck on the powerplay.
Campbell then notched his first of the season on a great behind-the-net feed from Puskarich to make it 6-0.
Butcher capped off his first career hat trick after Mitch McLain fired a shot off his shin pad and into the back of the net to round out the night's scoring.
James Barr picked up his second victory of the season and his first shutout to go along with it.
The Rivermen were 3-11 on the powerplay while the Bulldogs ended up scoreless on six opportunities on the night.
"I was happy with the way they came out, and it's nice to see as a group the guys play up to their potential," Henderson said. "It's nice to get a game like that, in which everybody played in all situations."
The Rivermen will look to ride the momentum into the B.C. Interior next weekend, starting with a game against the host Centennials at the Nicola Valley Arena in Merritt on Friday night.
The next night, Saturday, Sept. 29, the 'Men are in Salmon Arm to play the Silverbacks.
The big home ice win behind them, the 'Men are now focusing on registering their third and fourth wins of the season in hostile territory.
ICE CHIPS: The Bulldogs bounced back nicely after the lopsided losses to Coquitlam and Langley. They wrapped up their three-games-in-three-days road trip on Sunday with a 5-4 win over the Surrey Eagles at South Surrey Arena.