Langley Rivermen keep rolling as regular season winds down

The Langley Rivermen bucked a trend Saturday in Vernon.

By beating the host Vernon Vipers 5-2 at Kal Tire Place, the ‘Men – for the first time nearly a month – won a game that was decided by more than one goal.

With the win, the Mainland Division-leading Rivermen improved their record to a B.C. Hockey League-best 32-12-2-5, while the Vipers (25-16-3-4) continue to sit third in the Interior Division.

“At this point, a win’s a win,” Rivermen head coach Bobby Henderson said. “They have a good team over there, so it didn’t matter if we won by one, or three, or four. But it was nice to have breathing room at the end of the game, that’s for sure.”

The Rivermen led 3-1 after the first period on powerplay goals from Will Cook and Evan Anderson, and an even strength marker from Kevan Kilistoff with 1:42 to go in the frame.

The Vipers scored the lone goal of the middle period, when Liam Coughlin found the net on a powerplay 44 seconds into the frame to narrow the hosts’ deficit to 3-2.

The Langley visitors pulled away in the third period on goals from defenceman Zach Urban at the 3:58 mark, and an empty netter from rookie Marcus Vela with 1:22 remaining in regulation time.

“I thought we were good,” Henderson said. “It was pretty tight checking, back-and-forth for the first 40 [minutes], but as the game went on, we got better. We were on the fence for a while, but I think at one point, the guys had enough of it.

They wanted to put it away and played inspired in the third [period].”

Winners of their past three outings, the Rivermen have become experts when it comes to winning close games.

They went 8-0-1-1 in January, with five of their wins decided by one goal.

Team defence, goaltending, and particularly scoring balance have been keys to the ’Men’s success throughout the season.

After captain Mitch McLain (21 goals, 55 points), the team’s second leading point getter is James Robinson, with 15 goals and 40 points in 37 games.

Those two are followed by Matt Ustaski and Cook (39 points each), Jakob Reichert (38 points), Azurdia (37 points) and import rookie defencemen Chris Forney (28 points, including 25 assists) and Tony Bretzman (23 points).

“We knew coming out of the gate that we might not have a 35 goal-scorer but we would have a lot of guys in the 15, 16-goal range and around the 40 point mark. If we’d have five or six guys around 40 points, we’d be in a good spot.”

With 136 goals allowed in 51 games, the Rivermen are third in the BCHL in team defence behind Penticton (120 goals against) and Prince George (135).

Goaltender Brock Crossthwaite is having a fine season with a 21-8 record, three shutouts, a 2.37 goals against average, and a .915 save percentage.

Speaking about the Rivermen’s team defence, Henderson said, “It’s been a key to our success and it starts from our goalies on out. Both goalies have been great. Brock’s been strong over the course of the season and [recently acquired] Lyndon [Stanwood] has won the majority of the games he’s played [with us].”

On the back end, the Rivermen have a blend of skill and toughness, in Henderson’s opinion.

“The makeup of our back end is, we have guys who can really scoot and move the puck, and guys who are bigger bodies. They’re all good skaters. We have a mobile group who have the ability to take away time and ice. That makes them tough to play against.”

Rivermen 2, Vernon Vipers 1 (double OT)

The ’Men opened February with an overtime win over the Vipers Friday at the Langley Events Centre.

Gage Torrel scored the winner 1:01 into the three-on-three, second overtime period, snapping a 1-1 tie and lifting the ’Men to victory.

Langley’s Austin Azurdia opened the scoring on a Langley powerplay with just 32 seconds to play in the opening frame.

After a goal-less second period, the Vipers’ Demico Hannoun scored,  unassisted, at the 14:34 mark of the third stanza to tie the game and eventually earn the Vipers an overtime point.

Henderson said the Rivermen are “excited to play in overtime.”

“A lot of teams are nervous, maybe squeezing their sticks, but our guys thriving [in that situation] right now,” he said.

ICE CHIPS: The Rivermen have seven games to go in their regular season and will spend the next couple days in Prince George, where they’ll be playing back-to-back games against their Mainland rivals, the Spruce Kings, tonight and Friday.

Prince George (29-16-3-2) sits second behind Langley in the Mainland standings, eight points back of the Rivermen with a game in hand.

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