Playing three games in as many days caught up with the Langley Rivermen Sunday afternoon at the Langley Events Centre.
Their matinee meeting with the Trail Smoke Eaters was a test of attrition for both sides.
Both teams were playing their third game in as many days, which was especially tough on the Smoke Eaters, who made their way to Langley after playing Friday and Saturday night on Vancouver Island.
Darren Hogg got the start in goal for Langley, while Lyndon Stanwood was Trail’s starter.
The Rivermen got off to a good start as Matt Ustaski opened the scoring at the 2:15 mark. The rookie centre took a pass from Trevor Cope and banked it off Stanwood’s leg and into the goal.
Shortly after that, Trail tied the game on a powerplay goal from Jesse Knowler. Hogg made a stop on a sharp angle shot, but could not spot the rebound in time and Knowler jammed it in.
That would be all the goal scoring in the period as Hogg and Stanwood shut the door the rest of the frame.
In the second period, Mark Whiteley scored his fourth goal of the season as the home took team a 2-1 lead.
Whiteley took a pass from Austin Azurdia and fired a shot toward the goal that went off a Trail defender and into the back of the net.
Exactly two minutes later, Scott Davidson finished off a perfectly executed give-and-go with Garrett McMullen to even up the score at 2-2.
The Rivermen peppered Stanwood in the middle stanza with 17 shots, only beating him once.
For the third straight period, the ’Men found the net early on.
With Langley on the powerplay, Hogg stopped a short-handed breakaway from Tyler Berkholtz and back the other way the Rivermen went. Evan Anderson finished the play off by roofing home a beautiful back hand shot to get the lead at 3-2.
Just past the 11 minute mark, Trail tied the game once again on a tally from Adam Wheeldon on a scramble in front of Hogg.
Then, with less than eight minutes to go, Langley’s Mario Puskarich was hauled down on a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot. The league’s leading scorer attempted a fancy one hand move, trying to catch Stanwood sliding the wrong way, but was denied.
In the late stages, the Rivermen got caught with too many men on the ice and the Smoke Eaters capitalized on the man advantage.
Brent Bultus spotted Braden Pears coming in off the point and he made no mistake, beating Hogg for the go-ahead goal.
Then, with Hogg pulled for the extra attacker, Trail took a penalty, making it a six-on-four for the Rivermen, but the home team could not put anything by Stanwood and the game would end in Smokies’ favour.
Rivermen head coach Bobby Henderson said the playing field was “pretty level” considering the two teams’ workloads last weekend.
“We had opportunities to win that game early,” Henderson said. “We could have put it away a couple of different times but we failed to capitalize.”
Henderson gave credit to the Smoke Eaters for playing a gritty road game.
“They were on the body hard all day and made it tough for our guys,” he said.
The loss dropped the Rivermen below .500 at 17-18-1-5.
The ’Men continue to hold on to the fourth and final playoff spot in the B.C. Hockey League’s Mainland Division, three points up on the fifth-place Coquitlam Express. The Rivermen have three games in hand on the Express.
Henderson said third place in the Mainland is still a possibility. The Rivermen trail the Prince George Spruce Kings by eight points with two games in hand.
“Third spot is very much in sight for us,” Henderson said. “It’s always perpetual motion. We always want to keep moving forward. Even though we’re not getting the results we want, we’re making strides in our game.”
The Rivermen have a bit of a break over the next week-and-a-half. They only play one game this weekend, with a trip to South Surrey Arena to take on the Eagles this Saturday.
Their relatively light schedule gives the Rivermen a chance to focus solely on an Eagles team that has had their number this year. The Eagles have won five of six games against the Rivermen.
“We’re going to throw everything but the kitchen sink at them,” Henderson said.
After that, the ’Men return to the LEC this Tuesday when they host the Express at 7:15 p.m.
Surrey Eagles 3, Rivermen 1
The Eagles continued their season-long dominance of the Rivermen by tripping up the Langley visitors Saturday at South Surrey Arena.
The loss put a halt to the ’Men’s three-game win streak.
Coming into the game, Surrey had a 4-1 series lead and was only one point out of first place in the Mainland Division.
James Barr started the Rivermen, while Michael Santaguida would tend the Birds’ net.
The first period had a great pace to it as both teams came out with a lot of energy.
Barr and Santaguida made a couple of key stops early on to keep it scoreless.
With less than five minutes to go in the frame, the Eagles opened the scoring with a shorthanded marker.
Brett Mulcahy stole the puck and created a two n one with Nicholas Pierog. Mulcahy rang a shot off the post and Pierog pounced on the loose puck in the crease and made it 1-0 Eagles. Surrey had the edge in shots at 12-11 after 20 minutes.
In the second period, the Rivermen tied the score with a powerplay goal. Nathan Craft fired a shot from the right wing that it Trevor Cope and bounced in the net behind Santaguida. It was not how the play was drawn up, but Cope will take it for his 11th of the year.
With under a minute to go in the period, the Eagles took their lead back, also on the powerplay.
After good puck movement by the Eagles, Devon Toews fired a shot on Barr that caused a rebound that went right to Kevin Kilistoff, who made no mistake in knocking home his second goal in as many games.
In the third period, the Eagles shut it down defensively, trapping up the neutral zone and sat on their lead to perfection. With under seven minutes to go in regulation, Trevor Cameron put the game away off a scramble in front of Barr to make it 3-1. Surrey outshot Langley 39-31 overall.
Henderson said, despite the loss, it was a strong effort.
It was also somewhat encouraging, considering the ’Men were trounced 10-2 by the Eagles at the LEC on Jan. 13.
“We played very well,” he said. “This was our second time on the big ice and I think if there’s any critique I could have, it was that our first period wasn’t up to par. All in all, it was a pretty good effort. It was one of those games where we had a ton of chances but couldn’t capitalize. They had some very good goaltending and we couldn’t get any puck luck, really.”
Salmon Arm Silverbacks 2
The Rivermen opened the weekend on a winning note after doubling the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 4-2 Friday at the LEC.
Coming into the game, both teams sat in fourth place in their respective divisions and were looking to widen the gap on the teams below them for playoff positioning.
Langley took the first game in the season series 3-2 in double overtime back in September. Barr got the start for the ’Men, while Adam Clark got the call for the ’Backs.
The first period did not get off to the best of starts for the Rivermen as Salmon Arm came out with a lot of energy.
The Silverbacks’ Alex Jewell opened up the scoring with a powerplay goal at the 6:42 mark of the period. A shot towards the net hit a body in front and landed in the slot for Jewell who ripped home the game’s first goal.
With under a minute to go and Langley on the powerplay, Azurdia tied the game on a very hard-working goal. He took the puck towards the net, put it off the stick of Clark and with the puck in mid-air, smacked it not once, but twice and ended up in the back of the net. It was especially jaw dropping since he scored the ball while falling to the ice.
In the second period, the Rivermen started to really come on.
Jakob Reichert, who was moved back to defence from the forward lines for the first time this season, took the puck hard to the goal and got his own rebound to make it a 2-1 game. For Reichert, it was his second goal in two games.
With time winding down, Langley added another late one. With under five seconds to go in the middle frame, defenceman Aaron Dolby potted his third of the year on a long point shot that found its way through a maze of bodies to make it a 3-1 lead ’Men after 40 minutes.
In the third period, Puskarich scored a beautiful goal on the powerplay at the 2:28 mark. The league’s top sniper took a pass on the goal line on the right-wing and had very little room to put it in the top half of the net, but he did just that roofing a quick shot over the shoulder of Clark to make it 4-1.
The ’Backs would not go away quietly as Josh Bowes scored with under seven minutes to go to cut the lead to two. However, the comeback fell short as Puskarich iced the game with an empty net tally.
“This was our best effort since Christmas,” Henderson said.
Barr picked up the win facing 40 shots, while Clark was the losing goaltender stopping 37. Puskarich was named first star of the game with two goals and two assists, while Barr and Clark would get second and third star nods, respectively.