High-flying Rivermen sweep weekend foes

It’s been smooth sailing of late for the Langley Rivermen.

The Rivermen went 3-0 last weekend and, with an impressive 25-12-1-4 record, lead the B.C. Hockey League’s Mainland Division by a somewhat comfortable margin.

Undefeated in 2014, the ’Men are seven points clear of the second place Prince George Spruce Kings in what is becoming a two-team battle for top spot in the division. The Spruce Kings have three games at hand on the Rivermen, however.

The Langley juniors are riding a three-game win streak after edging the Chilliwack Chiefs 4-3 in overtime Friday at Chilliwack’s Prospera Centre, and posting back-to-back home wins at the Langley Events Centre: 5-1 over the Surrey Eagles Saturday night and 6-2 over the Cowichan Valley Capitals Sunday afternoon.

Rivermen head coach Bobby Henderson said, after shaking off some rust from a lengthy Christmas break, the players are finding their form again.

“We had a good week of practice where they guys went pretty hard at it, and we saw some results because of it,” Henderson said. “The guys played with focus and determination and played some pretty solid hockey.”

Rivermen 6, Cowichan Valley Capitals 2

The ’Men put an exclamation mark on what was a wildly successful weekend by blowing out the visitors from Duncan Sunday afternoon.

James Robinson got the ball rolling for the Rivermen when he scored an unassisted, shorthanded goal exactly one minute into the game.

Will Cook, at the 4:45 mark of the frame, and rookie forward Jackson Waniek, at 9:36, gave the Rivermen a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.

With 12 seconds to go in the second period, another Langley freshman, Darien Craighead, made it 4-0 for the hosts.

Then, 15:56 into the third period, the Rivermen’s Austin Azurdia scored an unassisted goal to give Langley a 5-0 lead.

The Capitals showed some signs of life with back-to-back powerplay goals from Brayden Gelsinger and Matthew Berry-Lamontagna, both scored after Rivermen forward Gage Torrel was handed a five-minute major for boarding and tossed from the game at the 17:19 mark of the final frame.

Langley’s Matt Ustaski closed out the scoring when he deposited the puck into the empty net with six seconds to go in regulation time.

Ustaski’s goal was his 20th of the campaign and fourth shorthanded marker of the season, which is the team lead in both categories.

Henderson said the 6’6” 225 pound Ustaski, who is headed to the University of Wisconsin next fall on an NCAA Div. 1 scholarship, has pro potential. The 19-year-old native of Glenview, Ill., racked up six points during the ’Men’s three wins over the weekend.

“He was nominated as player of week by the BCHL, and that’s a nice honour for a kid that as far as his career goes, is a late bloomer,” Henderson said. “He’s had quite a few looks from quite a few NHL teams, and if he doesn’t get drafted [at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in June] he’ll get a ton of exposure at the University of Wisconsin.”

Another Rivermen standout versus Cowichan was goaltender Lyndon Stanwood, who earned the win by making 26 saves, a few of which were of the difficult variety.

Rivermen 5, Surrey Eagles 1

The Rivermen took over in the second period in a rout of the Eagles in front of a disappointingly small Saturday night crowd of just 834 at the LEC.

Goals by Jakob Reichert, who went in alone and scored after taking a nice feed from defenceman Zach Urban, and Robinson, who while standing in the Eagles’ crease deftly tipped in a feed from captain Mitch McLain on a Rivermen powerplay, transformed a 2-1 first period lead into a comfortable 4-1 advantage after 40 minutes of action.

Cook rounded out the night’s scoring when he scored with 5:35 to go in the game.

In the first period, the Rivermen’s Kevan Kilistoff opened the scoring 4:14 after the opening faceoff.

A minute and 37 seconds after Kilistoff’s goal, the Eagles knotted the score at 1-1 on a powerplay goal from Anthony Conti.

The Rivermen took the lead for good when Ustaski scored 12:46 into the opening frame.

Rivermen goaltender Brock Crossthwaite stopped 20 of 21 shots directed h is way and was named third star of the game.

Crossthwaite improved his record to 16-7. He also has a 2.48 goals against average and two shutouts in what is shaping up to be an excellent campaign for the 19-year-old netminder from Kanata, Ontario.

Rivermen 4, Chilliwack Chiefs 3 (OT)

Judging from the shot totals, the Rivermen deserved to win Friday at Chilliwack’s Prospera Centre.

The visitors fired 30 more shots than the Chiefs (52-22) through 60:15 of action.

Even so, the Rivermen needed a third period goal from Jakob Reichert to tie the game at 3-3 and an overtime marker from Ustaski 15 seconds into the first four-on-four overtime session to earn the win.

Ustaski’s OT winner was his second of the night.

Even though they were outshot badly, the Chiefs led 2-0 on a pair of powerplay goals from Mathieu Tibbet, the first coming at the 8:40 mark of the first period, the second, 1:10 into the second frame.

The Rivermen rallied with a powerplay marker of their own off the stick of Azurdia 12:05 into the second period, and an even strength goal from Ustaski 1:45 later.

Tibbet, who was named first star of the game, completed his hat trick with four seconds remaining in the second period to restore the Chiefs’ lead at 3-2.

The Chiefs were an efficient two-for-three with the man advantage; the Rivermen managed one goal on seven powerplays.

McLain fell a goal shy of a “Gordie Howe hat trick.” He assisted on Reichert’s game-tying goal in the third period, and was involved in a fight with Chilliwack’s Tanner Cochrane in the opening frame.

ICE CHIPS: Next up for the Rivermen is a home and home series with the Chiefs.

The teams meet Friday at the Langley Events Centre, with a 7:15 p.m. opening faceoff, and reconvene Saturday at Prospera Centre starting at 7 p.m.

The Chiefs sit last in the five-team Mainland Division with a 10-27-1-3 record.

“Going into playoffs we want to be able to win anywhere, any place, at any time,” Henderson said. “That’s our mindset right now, playing game by game. We want to win every game.”

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