Rivermen inch towards Mainland Division title

Every positive thing the Langley Rivermen do from now to the end of the regular season will be history-making for the junior A hockey team.

The Rivermen have already accumulated the most points in franchise history and are poised to win not only the B.C. Hockey League’s Mainland Division title, but potentially the Ron Boileau Memorial Trophy as the BCHL regular season champions.

With 75 points in 54 games, the Rivermen (34-13-2-5) need one more point over their final four regular season games to win their division.

They have a sizeable 10-point lead over the second place Prince George Spruce Kings.

A win, tie, or overtime loss against the visiting Chilliwack Chiefs at the Langley Events Centre (LEC) on Friday would seal the divisional deal.

Rivermen head coach Bobby Henderson said, even though they reside in the Mainland basement with a 13-35-2-4 record, the Chiefs won’t be an easy mark.

“I watched some film of Chilliwack the past couple games, and they’re playing their best hockey of the year,” Henderson said. “They’re peaking at a time that’s a little late for them, but there’s so much pride in that organization. We’ll have to be very good on Friday.”

The Rivermen, meanwhile, are the top team in the entire BCHL at present, one point better than the Island Division-leading Victoria Grizzlies (34-13-3-3).

“Our goal from the start of the year was to win our division, first and foremost, and we want to win the league,” Henderson said. “It’s a process – we have to clinch our division first and put ourselves in a position where, if we finish well, we’ve got a shot to win it all.”

Last season, the Rivermen finished fourth in the Mainland with a less-than-mediocre 24-26-1-5 record.

Despite putting up a fight, they were ushered out of the playoffs in the first round by the eventual BCHL champions and RBC Cup national tournament semifinalists, the Surrey Eagles.

So what’s the difference between this year and last? It boils down to the right blend of talent and experience, according to the head coach.

“No. 1, we’ve got some extremely talented players, so I give credit there, but the second part is the core of the team was here [last season],” Henderson said.

“We’ve got experience. That’s something talked about at every level, and you really can’t put a value on it. You have to go through it.”

The Rivermen lost three games to one to the Eagles in their 2013 best-of-five opening round series, but had some good moments, particularly at South Surrey Arena where they took game two by a 1-0 score.

“In the playoffs against Surrey, the guys saw they could skate with the team that was in the national finals [RBC Cup tournament],” Henderson said.

 

Rivermen 4, Coquitlam Express 1

The ’Men derailed the visiting Express Tuesday at the LEC.

After allowing an early power play marker, the Rivermen scored four unanswered goals to win and even their season series with the Express at four wins apiece.

Goaltender Lyndon Stanwood made 33 saves in his best performance with Langley to date, earning the nod as the game’s second star.

“I thought we were pretty solid,” Henderson said. “We were opportunistic and we capitalized on our chances. We gave up a few more [chances] than we would have liked but Lyndon Stanwood had arguably his best game of the year. That was the difference, and gave us a chance to win.”

It only took three minutes for the Rivermen to respond after Coquitlam’s Ryan Rosenthal scored his 31st of the season on the man advantage just 4:29 into the first period.  

Langley rallied with a powerplay of its own as defenceman Chris Forney finished off a beautiful cross-ice feed from Evan Anderson for his fourth of the season, beating Coquitlam goaltender Gordie Defiel five-hole to tie the game at 1-1.  

While the Rivermen had several more great scoring chances throughout the rest of the period, the game remained tied at one heading into the break.

At the 6:40 mark of the second, Gage Torrel scored his 10th of the season, completing a pretty passing play involving Anderson and Tyson Witala as the Rivermen took the lead.  

Then, with the Rivermen up 2-1 six minutes into the final frame, Langley’s Kevan Kilistoff scored his ninth off an Austin Azurdia rebound to put the home team up 3-1.  

After pulling Defiel in favour of the extra attacker, the Express couldn’t generate much offence.

Rivermen captain Mitch McLain stole the puck deep in the Coquitlam zone and deposited his 22nd of the campaign into the open cage, sealing the Rivermen’s 34th win on the season.

ICE CHIPS: Friday’s Rivermen/Chiefs game has a 7:15 p.m. start time at the LEC.

The Rivermen play their final regular season game on home ice Sunday afternoon, Feb. 23, when they host Prince George. Game time at the LEC is 2 p.m.

The two teams end the season with back-to-back games at the Prince George Coliseum Thursday, Feb. 27 and Friday, Feb. 28.

Langley will have a steady diet of the Spruce Kings by season’s end.

After Feb. 28, the ’Men and Spruce Kings will have met five times since Feb. 13.

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