Defending BCHL regular season champion Langley Rivermen off to 0-2 start to campaign

Their perfect 4-0 pre-season record has been rendered moot after the Langley Rivermen stumbled at the Bauer BCHL Showcase at Chilliwack’s Prospera Centre.

The Rivermen are 0-2 to start the regular campaign after losing 2-1 to the Victoria Grizzlies on Sunday afternoon, and 4-2 to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Friday.

Victoria Grizzlies 2, Rivermen 1

The ’Men got off to a good start against the Grizzlies, as Evan Anderson scored his second of the season with one second left in first period to give Langley a 1-0 lead.

But that’s all the offence they could muster, thanks to some stellar goaltending by Michael Stiliadis, who made 34 saves in the win.

“It wasn’t what we wanted to get done this weekend,” Rivermen associate head coach Jon Calvano said. “We would’ve liked to come home with four points but we saw some areas of improvement we can strive for.”

Like Friday’s 4-2 loss to Salmon Arm, the Rivermen had plenty of scoring chances and outshot the Grizzlies 35-28 but were unable to capitalize.

Langley was also 0-4 on the power play.

“It wasn’t very potent,” said Calvano. “We didn’t execute any of our opportunities. We had some looks but our execution isn’t where we want it to be right now.”

Victoria, which was outplayed for much of the game, tied things up in second period when PJ Conlon scored with under four minutes left in the frame.

The Grizzlies scored the eventual game winner, as Shawn McBride finished off a one-timer, 1:54 into the third period.

Despite losing some of their key scorers from last season, the Rivermen are hoping to have more of a balanced attack, but so far, have struggled to find the back of the net.

“It’s only two games in,” said Calvano. “We have to minimize our turnovers in the offense zone and work with the defense on quicker transition with the puck instead of making the high risk passes.”

The Rivermen split goaltending duties in their first two games. After Bo Didur took the loss against Salmon Arm on Friday, Darren Martin made 26 saves but came up on the short-end on Sunday.

The Rivermen will have a full week off before they head to Vernon next Sunday to take on the Vipers, who split their first two games at the BCHL Showcase.

Salmon Arm Silverbacks 4, Rivermen 2

Salmon Arm’s Andrew Farny, Thomas Plese, Carson Bolduc and Nick Hutchison scored for the Silverbacks, while Will Campion and Evan Anderson tallied goals for the Rivermen.

Both teams had 35 shots a piece.

The Rivermen got into penalty trouble early and their lack of discipline seemed to cost them a chance at a victory, taking 12 minor penalties in the loss.

Salmon Arm got things going as Farny scored on the power play to kick off the scoring. That was followed up by Plese, who made it 2-0 for the Silverbacks after 40 minutes.

The Rivermen then cut the lead to one, as Campion scored a point blank goal on Salmon Arm goalie Angus Redmond, making it 2-1.

The Silverbacks would counter, as Bolduc would score on the man advantage making it 3-1 Salmon Arm. Anderson scored late for Langley but that’s as close as the Rivermen would come as the Silverbacks added an empty net goal from Hutchison, securing the victory.

Tough act to follow

The Rivermen have set the bar high, after winning the Ron Boileau Memorial Trophy as the league’s top point-producing team during the 2013/14 regular season.

The local juniors, however, fell short in the playoffs, losing to Coquitlam in the Mainland Division Finals.

This year, the Rivermen are hoping to take the next step.

“We’re champing at the bit to get going here,” Rivermen head coach and general manager Bobby Henderson said. “It was a bit of a longer off-season than we had hoped for, but it also gave us a good chance to get some good recruits.

We’re ready to peak and looking to get the season going.”

“We were such a good team last year and we had so much depth up front,” said forward Evan Anderson, who’s entering his final year with the Rivermen. “We pride ourselves in being the best team in the Mainland Division and I think we’re going to follow through with that again this year.”

The Rivermen were busy in the off-season, strengthening their back end with the additions of defencemen Jacob Kearley, Jordan Schneider, Dom Masellis, as well as recently acquired Steven Duda.

“Last season the bulk of our muscle was up front,” Henderson said. “I thought on the back end we were a little small. We had tons of ability but we ran into some big bodies in the playoffs. That was one area we decided to get a little bigger.

We have a little bit different dynamic this year. We’re faster up front and more of a balanced attack. We still plan to be fairly aggressive, take away time and space, continue to defend hard, and try to limit our opponent’s chances.”

One of the Rivermen’s newest blueliners is adjusting to the pace of the BCHL game.

“I think there’s a bit of a learning curve for me, coming from Ontario,” Schneider said. “The speed’s a bit faster than where I was playing before. It seems there’s more depth on the teams. Back home, every team had one or two lines that they leaned on. Here, all four lines and all six defensemen can play.”

The Rivermen will begin the season with a young squad, including 10 rookies in the lineup.

“So far, they all have really stepped up and played big roles,” said second year forward, Marcus Vela. “The rookies are actually doing really well and it looks like they’re going to fit in nicely.”

“It’s really something where you look to the returning guys to set the tone and be that calming influence for the young guys,” Henderson added. “There’s no reason for us not to get up for games. It’s a great building to play in and our home record over the past couple season has shown it. The guys take great pride in playing here and appreciate it.”

With two solid netminders, Henderson says he’s going to go with the dual goaltending approach.

“We’ll take it game by game,” he said. “We like to share the workload, but how we delegate that will vary. It’ll be based on rest, the upcoming schedule and other times it’ll be based on who’s got the hot hand. We don’t have a set plan in place. The more flexibility we allow ourselves, the better off we’ll be.”

Including the BCHL Bauer Showcase, the Rivermen will play their first four games away from the Langley Events Centre.

“It’s a great vehicle for our league to showcase our players,” Henderson noted, prior to the showcase. “I only wish it was a couple games in, so the guys could have a few games to squash the nerves a bit but that’s part of playing in the league, you’ve got to expect scouts to be watching all the time. They’ll just have to rise to the occasion and thrive on it. This much exposure for one weekend of hockey is great for the league.”

“The showcase is interesting because you look around and you see guys with clipboards all around the rink,” Anderson said. “It teaches you to play under pressure and I think it’s a good test to see what we can accomplish early on.”

The Rivermen will start the season with one main goal in mind.

“You talk to anybody on our team and the goal is to win the Fred Page Cup,” Anderson said.

The Rivermen have announced their alternate captains for the 2014/15 season.

Joining captain Kevin Kilistoff, will be alternates Jacob Kearley, Hunter Anderson, Brendan Gulka, and Gage Torrel.

Gulka and Torrel will split time wearing the “A” on their jerseys.

Gulka will wear the letter for home games while Torrel will wear it for away games.

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