Turns out, the 11-day Christmas break was good for the Langley Rivermen.
Langley’s B.C. Hockey League team swept its weekend series against their rival Coquitlam Express, winning 7-4 Saturday at the Langley Events Centre and 6-1 Friday in Coquitlam.
The Rivermen, who improved to 13-14-1-5 on the season with the two wins, now sit just one point back of the Express, who hold down the fourth and final playoff spot in the B.C. Hockey League’s Mainland Division.
The Rivermen have two games at hand on the Express, who dropped to 16-18-1-0 with the pair of losses.
Langley head coach/general manager Bobby Henderson was in Calgary for a weekend scouting trip, so he wasn’t behind the bench for the two games.
He watched the games online and said the Rivermen, the league’s highest scoring team with 114 goals for, gave their fans a show on Saturday.
“I thought the guys played pretty good… we gave up too many chances but we got the job done,” Henderson said. “At the end of the day, [the two wins are] four huge points for us. Great value for the fans for sure, but it made the coaches grey a little bit. At this point, a win is a win is a win.”
Henderson said the No. 1 goal is to play in the post-season.
“From game to game, our team goal is to make the playoffs,” he said. “Whether we’re in fourth spot, third spot, it doesn’t matter. We just want to get better, day after day.”
Rivermen 7, Express 4
The Rivermen ended their 2012 schedule with a high-scoring, home-ice win over the Express.
James Barr and Cole Huggins would get the start for a second straight night.
The ’Men opened the scoring just before the game was three minutes old.
Austin Azurdia, in his first game back from a three game suspension, and on his very first shift, scored his 10th of the year on a breakaway.
Just over eight minutes later, Ben Butcher, Evan Anderson, and Azurdia combined for the second tally of the game.
Anderson put the puck on goal with Azurdia and Butcher standing in front and it was Butcher getting the last touch of the puck on a rebound goal in tight.
Then, at the 12:47 mark, Mario Puskarich put away his league-leading 24th goal of the campaign on a powerplay
The Langley sniper slowly skated to the top of the left circle, waited for a screen in front and ripped home a laser beam up into the top left corner.
That goal chased Huggins from the net, making way for backup goaltender Daniel Urbani.
Henderson said Puskarich’s prolific season (he has 49 points in 33 games) is a spillover from last year when he ended up with 59 points in a full 60 contests.
“He’s been playing excellent going back to last year,” Henderson said, regarding Puskarich.
“There wasn’t as much of a supporting cast as last year.”
The head coach added, “We’re getting production from every line right now, so it helps when teams aren’t just focusing on him.”
The change in goaltenders seemed to spark the Express as they capitalized on a powerplay goal of their own from Zachary Pryzbek.
Just over four minutes later, Philip Zielonka scored on yet another powerplay off a rebound to cut the lead to one goal with time winding down.
With under 30 seconds to go, it was Logan Smith’s turn to hit the score sheet.
The Langley captain, who was still searching for his first BCHL goal, jumped up on a rush with Puskarich who slid a perfect cross ice pass to Smith. The big defenceman made no mistake, restoring the two goal lead going into the second frame.
The second period was more of a defensive battle and both goaltenders were the story.
Langley put 19 pucks towards Urbani who stopped every single one, while Coquitlam fired 14 on Barr and were able to sneak one by him.
The lone goal scorer was Siemer who was able to fake out Barr at the top of the crease with some slick stickhandling before slipping the puck between his legs.
But for a second straight night, the ’Men saved their best period for last.
With his team holding one-goal lead entering the period, Azurdia notched his second of the game just past the two-minute mark on a perfectly executed wrap around.
At the 4:14 mark, Langley’s Jakob Reichert stripped Zielonka of the puck deep in the Express zone and snapped home a shot along the ice to give his team a three-goal lead.
However a shift later, Siemer made it a two-goal affair, yet again on a solo effort for his 18th of the year.
That would be all the Express would get and just for good measure the Rivermen’s Derek Sutliffe capped off the night on an impressive wrist shot off an Express turnover deep in their own zone.
Azurdia was named the game’s first star with three points, while Siemer and Anderson rounded out the other two. Barr turned aside 40 shots for a second straight night as the 19-year-old puckstopper picked up his 12th win of the season.
Rivermen 6, Express 1
Friday at the Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre, the Rivermen recorded their second win against their division rivals in two weeks.
Barr was tapped for his 10th straight start in goal, while Huggins got the call for the Express.
Coquitlam came out flying out of the gates and had a 4-0 shot advantage before the game was even a couple of minutes old.
However, the ’Men weathered the storm and opened up the scoring on the powerplay on a goal from Butcher.
With time running out on the man advantage, Viktor Dombovskiy spotted an open Butcher on the right side. After taking the pass, Butcher snapped a quick shot past Huggins for his seventh of the year.
Nineteen seconds later, Sutliffe made it 2-0. Huggins stopped Mitch McLain and Reichert, but could not stop the third opportunity from Sutliffe in close.
But with under five minutes to go in the period the Express got on the board on a powerplay goal from the red-hot Zielonka. The Quebec native took the puck around the goal and fired a wrist shot beneath the blocker of Barr to extend his goal streak to 12 games and his point streak to 19. It was a very entertaining opening period as both teams fired 15 shots apiece.
The second period was much more tame, with only one goal scored, and it came from Rivermen forward James Robinson on the powerplay.
The Calgary Edge product took a nice pass from Puskarich down the left-wing on a rush before muscling home a backhand shot over the left pad of Huggins.
Barr was busy yet again in the frame, turning away 15 shots, while Langley directed just five on Huggins.
With a two-goal lead going into the third period, the Rivermen saved their best period for last. Puskarich put away his 23rd goal of the year on a perfectly executed two-on-one with Robinson.
A few minutes later, McLain jammed home a loose puck in the crease for his second point of the game.
Coquitlam had three more powerplay opportunities before the 15 minute mark, but could not capitalize on any of them.
With under three minutes to go, former Express forward Evan Campbell put his old team away on a beautiful snap shot down the right wing that beat Huggins clean over the left shoulder.
Barr was the story, facing 47 shots picking up the win and first star honours. Puskarich bagged four points and padded his lead in the goal and points race in receiving the second star nod, while Robinson was the third star with a goal and an assist.
The special teams department was a key factor all game long as the Langley’s powerplay went two-for-four while its penalty kill unit was even more solid, killing off five of six man advantage opportunities.