The Langley Rivermen knew they were going to have their hands full walking into the South Okanagan Events Centre on Saturday night.
They were not only going up against the defending national junior A hockey champions, but the top team in the entire B.C. Hockey League in the form of the Penticton Vees.
The Vees showed why they were the league's top team with a convincing 5-1 win over the 'Men.
Penticton improved to 20-7-0-3 while the Rivermen, who lost their second straight game and eighth in their last 10 outings, dropped to 10-13-0-5.
"In the first period we played pretty well," said defenceman Logan Smith, the Rivermen captain. "We controlled the game the first five minutes. It's hard to go into Penticton's barn knowing they are the defending national champions."
After good back-and-forth play for the opening five minutes, the Vees got on the board first, courtesy of Wade Murphy.
The Victoria native has been a handful for the Rivermen to contain in his career, as he put up 15 points in five games against Langley last year.
Less than eight minutes later the Vees scored two more times to close out the period with goals from Brock Balson and Cody DePourcq.
Rivermen goaltender James Barr got his sixth straight start and gave up three goals on 10 shots in the first period.
Vees' backup Nic Renyard was the goaltender for the home team and stopped all nine shots he saw.
The Vees continued to pour it on in the second period, scoring twice in 20 seconds with goals from Jedd Soleway and Louie Nanne.
After Soleway's tally Barr was pulled from the game in favor of Penticton native Darren Hogg.
The Vees would take a commanding 5-0 lead into the third frame and had a 21-6 shot advantage in the middle period.
The Rivermen had a very good final period, scoring the only goal off the stick of Viktor Dombrovskiy. The 16-year-old skater pounced on a loose rebound from an Evan Anderson blast and fired home his second of the year.
That would be it for the 'Men as they would lose their second game in a row.
Soleway and Murphy combined for six points and earned first and second star honours. Renyard was the third star, facing 26 shots.
"That was a character building game for us in a sense that we had to learn that it didn't matter what the score was, we had to fight to the very end," Smith said.
Trail Smoke Eaters 6, Rivermen 5 (double OT)
A double overtime loss to the Smoke Eaters Friday at the Cominco Arena was a tough pill to swallow for the Rivermen.
It wasn't losing the point so much as the fact that the Rivermen led 3-0 at one point of the second period and carried a 4-2 lead into the third frame.
The Smoke Eaters stormed back, outscoring the Rivermen 3-1 during the latter stages to tie the game before potting the double overtime winner.
"It's disappointing in a sense that we didn't get the points, but right now we have to look beyond what the score tells us and we have to take away the positives of the game," Smith said. "It's hard on the road, it really is. Anybody will tell you four hours on the bus is not friendly. It sucks, but it's not an excuse."
Coming into the game, the Smokies were billed as a very entertaining squad and they put on quite the third-period show for their fans.
Barr received his fourth straight start in goal, while Lyndon Stanwood got the call for Trail.
The teams traded momentum through the first 10 minutes of the first period before Langley opened the scoring on a powerplay goal from Mark Whiteley.
After a quick face off win, Whiteley spotted traffic in front of Stanwood.
He fired a shot between the legs of the Trail netminder, who did not see the shot coming at all.
A few minutes later, Rivermen leading scorer Mario Puskarich tallied his fifth goal in four games off a quick wrist shot just in front of the crease.
The goal was set up by some hard work down low by Evan Campbell and James Robinson, who made the play happen, while Puskarich put the shot in a perfect spot.
The visitors took a 2-0 lead into the second frame after firing 10 shots on goal in the opening period.
One play of note in the first 20 minutes was a fight between Langley's Turner Popoff and Trail's Adam Wheeldon. The Smoke Eaters forward took exception to an open ice body check that Popoff delivered to Trail leading scorer Brent Baltus in the neutral zone that knocked him out of the game.
Both players would then get a game misconduct for a staged fight, which was a candidate for scrap of the year.
Campbell wasted no time in the second period, scoring on a Langley powerplay just 45 seconds into the frame. Puskarich made a great play to keep the puck inside the Trail zone and found a wide open Campbell, who pumped home a shot past the glove side of Stanwood.
Credit the Smokies as they did not back down and got on the board shortly after on a marker from Garrett McMullen.
Trail cut the deficit to one goal at the six minute mark on an unassisted tally from Bennett Hambrook.
In the late stages of the period Campbell scored his fourth point in two periods with another goal, finishing off a pretty passing play between himself and James Robinson.
Both players played give-and-go off a rush and Campbell flew down the left wing and ripped the puck with very little room stick-side on Stanwood.
The third period was the most entertaining of the three. With the Rivermen holding a two-goal lead, Scott Davidson made it a 4-3 game at the 1:32 mark on a quick wrist shot down the right wing that beat Barr beneath the blocker.
The Smoke Eaters completed the comeback just before the seven-minute mark on McMullen's second of the game.
However, the Rivermen did not dwell on that goal and got right back on the scoresheet.
Trevor Cope gave Langley its lead back on a wraparound goal that just squeaked in past Stanwood along the post.
Cope was able to spot a loose rebound off a Smith shot and quickly reacted with a move that paid off.
Unfortunately for Langley, the lead did not last long. Luke Sandler evened the score yet again on a powerplay goal.
It was a fluke to say the least as Sandler dove into the net and had the puck ricochet off his elbow and land in the back of the net.
The Rivermen argued, but on the replay it showed Sandler did not mean to do it intentionally.
With under five minutes to play Garrett McMullen was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway. The Trail sniper was looking for the hat trick and the first Smokies lead of the game, but was denied by Barr who made a fantastic stop with the blocker.
Overtime was needed.
Four-on-four solved nothing, but not without some great opportunities.
Campbell had one the best chances on a breakaway, but a diving Marley Keca knocked the puck off his stick just before he was about to make his move.
Double overtime was needed and during three-on-three play, Campbell and Puskarich nearly ended it. On a two-on-one rush, Campbell threaded the needle to Puskarich who was open, but just missed his shot wide.
Off that miss the Smokies skated back down ice on a three-on-one and Braden Pears ended the game as he decided to look off the pass and fire a shot blocker side on Barr.
It was a very tough game to lose for the Rivermen, who seemed to deserve a better fate as they did not trail for a single second in the contest.
The Langley powerplay was perfect going two-for-two, and Campbell may have played his best game in a Rivermen uniform with a four-point night.
Not to be forgotten were his linemates. Robinson picked up three helpers while Puskarich ended up with a goal and an assist.
The Rivermen now have a very pivotal set of games coming up this weekend with three consecutive home appearances.
The team will host Coquitlam on Friday night, which will be Teddy bear toss night.
Chilliwack makes their first visit on Saturday and Powell River will finish off the weekend on Sunday afternoon.
Friday and Saturday's games have 7:15 p.m. start times. Sunday's contest gets underway at 2 p.m.
@ Copyright 2013