League-leading Langley Rivermen squeaking out wins

While the Langley Rivermen have been piling up wins and points of late, they haven’t allowed themselves much in the way of wiggle room.

The ’Men’s past five games have all been decided by one goal or fewer, with the Langley juniors going 3-0-1-1 during that stretch.

Four of their past five games have gone into overtime.

The Rivermen grabbed five of six points available to them last weekend.

They clipped the visiting Chilliwack Chiefs 5-4 in overtime Friday at the Langley Events Centre (LEC), skated to a 2-2 tie with the Cowichan Valley Capitals Saturday at the Island Savings Centre in Duncan, and doubled the host Victoria Grizzlies 2-1 Sunday at Bear Mountain Arena.

The weekend results improve the Rivermen’s record to 30-12-2-5.

They lead the B.C. Hockey League’s Mainland Division as well as the entire league with 67 points and still have yet to suffer a regulation loss since the calendar flipped over from 2013 to ’14 nearly a month ago.

Langley head coach Bobby Henderson said winning these recent tight games can only help the Rivermen as they gear up for the post-season.

“I have no problem winning 2-1 and 1-0 games,” Henderson said. “When coaches start freaking out is when [their teams] give up five or six goals.”

Over the weekend, the Rivermen had two big holes to fill in top-six forwards Matt Ustaski and Gage Torrel, who both missed all three games due to injury.

With 21 goals and 38 points, Ustaski is tied with linemate Jakob Reichert for second in team scoring, behind team captain Mitch McLain (53 points).

Torrel had eight goals and 18 points in 19 games prior to getting hurt.

“You add Ustaski and Torrel, there’s half a goal a game each,” Henderson said. “That’s a difference.”

 

Rivermen 2, Victoria Grizzlies 1

On paper, the ’Men’s toughest test of the weekend came from the Grizzlies, who sit second in the BCHL’s Island Division with a 28-12-3-3 record.

But the ’Men were also up against a struggling Victoria team that had lost two straight going into the contest.

Reichert made it three straight losses for the Grizz when he scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal at the 14:35 mark of the third period. He took a feed in tight from McLain before burying a shot past Grizzlies’ goaltender Nic Renyard.

“The guys were pretty bagged, there,” Henderson said. “Victoria had the night off before [the game] and they were drooling, waiting for us to come in there, so to get two points was pretty huge for our guys, especially for their morale.”

Backed by another solid goaltending performance from Brock Crossthwaite, the Rivermen were able to stymie the Grizzlies over the final five minutes and change to earn the two points.

Crossthwaite, who was named the game’s first star, stopped 31 of 32 shots to notch his 19th win of the season and improve his goals against average to a tidy 2.44.

The Rivermen’s Jackson Waniek opened the scoring with an unassisted marker with 37 seconds to go in the opening frame.

The Grizzlies’ Myles Fitzgerald tied the score with a powerplay tally, 3:11 into the second period.

 

Rivermen 2, Cowichan Valley Capitals 2

In a goaltender’s duel, the Rivermen and Capitals fired 77 shots on goal between them through 70 minutes of hockey, but could only manage two goals apiece.

Langley netminder Lyndon Stanwood (35 saves) and his counterpart at the other end, Cowichan’s Robin Gusse (38 saves) both had solid nights, even though neither was named among the game’s three stars.

The Rivermen trailed 1-0 after two periods before jumping ahead 2-1 in the third on goals three minutes apart from McLain and rookie Marcus Vela, on a Langley powerplay.

The Caps’ Daniel Wanner tied the game with 4:08 remaining in the third period.

Neither team managed to find the net during the four-on-four and three-on-three overtime periods.

“We played pretty good,” Henderson said. “We had more than enough chances but they played a heck of a game.”

The Rivermen were up against a desperate Capitals team that’s currently battling the Alberni Valley Bulldogs for the final playoff spot in the Island Division.

The Caps and Bulldogs have 38 points apiece.

“It was a good, entertaining hockey game for the fans,” Henderson said.

 

Rivermen 5, Chilliwack Chiefs 4 (OT)

James Robinson scored 37 seconds into the four-on-four, first overtime period to lift the Rivermen to victory in front of 1,183 fans at the LEC.

The first two periods were full of goals, with the teams tied 2-2 going into the first intermission and the Rivermen moving ahead 4-3 after 40 minutes of play.

Chilliwack’s Zach Diamantoni scored the only goal of the third period to tie the score and send the game into overtime.

In a balanced attack, five different Rivermen found the net including Robinson, Austin Azurdia and Zach Urban (with back-to-back powerplay goals in the first period), and Reichert and McLain in the middle frame.

McLain’s goal also came with Langley enjoying a man advantage.

Langley’s powerplay unit cashed in on three of nine opportunities.

The Rivermen outshot the Chiefs 44-29, including 31-15 through the second and third periods.

 

ICE CHIPS: The Rivermen are now enjoying a rare break. Their next game is next Friday, Feb. 7, when they host the Vernon Vipers at the LEC. Game time is 7:15 p.m.

“We need the break and it comes at a perfect time,” said Henderson, who added that he and the Rivermen coaching staff will mix practice days with days off as the team prepares for the February stretch drive.

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