The Langley Rivermen have Wild times ahead of them, starting this Saturday, March 5.
In a cross-border battle, the Rivermen are facing Washington’s Wenatchee Wild in the opening round of the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.
There’s a nostalgic vibe to the series, with the Langley games taking place the former hotbed of local junior A hockey, the George Preston Recreation Centre. The reason: the B.C. boys high school basketball championships are taking over much of the Langley Events Centre during the second week of March.
The Rivermen finished third in the BCHL’s Mainland Division with a 31-22-3-2 record.
As such, they’ll be facing the second place Wild (34-16-4-4) in the first round of the 2016 Fred Page Cup playoffs.
It will be a best-of-seven format, with the Wild hosting games one, two, six, and seven, while the Rivermen host games three, four, and five.
The Rivermen have just one win to show for their six meetings with the Wild during the regular season. The expansion Wild are 4-1-1 versus the ’Men heading into the playoffs.
Despite this, Rivermen head coach Bobby Henderson said the teams are very closely matched, pointing to their 4-4, double overtime tie Feb. 23 at Wenatchee’s Toyota Town Centre.
“I like the way we match up with them,” Henderson said.
Led by their leading scorer, centre Brendan Harris, the swift-skating Wild have four balanced lines, with 10 players reaching double digit numbers in goals.
Wild head coach Bliss Little said his team will look to stifle the Rivermen’s ability to get the puck out of their own zone.
“We will need to be good on the forecheck to have a chance to be successful,” Little said.“We are a team that has to pressure all over the ice to be successful in a long series.”
“They are a good skating hockey club, with four lines that can contribute,” Henderson said, of the Wild. “They play a fast game – that’s the biggest thing.”
The Rivermen are led by their top scorer Matthew Graham, who tallied 24 goals and 66 points during the regular season.
“We have complete confidence that we’ll be able to beat them; we’ve had some success over the past few games,” Graham said. “We’ve shown them we’re a team to be reckoned with. If we play our style, then I think we’ll have them on their heels.”
Graham, who will play NCAA Div. 1 hockey with Moon, Pennsylvania’s Robert Morris University starting next fall, would like nothing better than to have the Rivermen go on a long playoff run to cap his junior A career.
“We’re going to give everything we’ve got,” Graham said, “and hopefully get a good result.”
Graham has plenty of offensive support, with fellow forwards Max Kaufman, Justin Fregona, Torrin White, and Matty Saharchuk all eclipsing the 20-goal plateau this season.
Henderson said this, along with the Rivermen’s penchant for physical play, should make the local boys a tough out versus the Wild.
“I think we play a balanced game,” Henderson said. “We can play any way you want to play. We can play up tempo and we have guys who like to play it physical.”
On that note, Graham added, “I think a big part of our game is to be physical with them to try to slow them down. Our physical presence is important because they’re a fast team.”
In goal, the Rivermen have split duties between Bo Didur (15-16, two shutouts, 2.99 goals against average) and Nickolas Trenciansky (16-9-2, two shutouts, 3.10 GAA).
Games one and two are being held this Saturday and Sunday (March 5-6) at the Toyota Town Center in Wenatchee, Wash.
Games four and five are Tuesday, March 8 and Wednesday, March 9 at the GPRC, both with 7 p.m. start times.
Returning to the GPRC, where as a defenceman with the Chilliwack Chiefs Henderson went to battle against the former Langley Hornets from 1998 to 2003, should be interesting for the Langley bench boss.
“It’s a smaller building with shallow corners, so we don’t get a lot of time [with the puck],” Henderson said. “It’s a fast rink with hard ice, so it suits our team well. We’re hoping for a good turnout. The crowds have been good here [in the LEC] in the second half so it should be a good series.”
Game five, if necessary, is Friday, March 11 at the GPRC, starting at 7 p.m.
If games six and seven are necessary, they will be played at the Toyota Town Centre on Sunday, March 13 and Monday, March 14.
Henderson said the Rivermen can’t take a shift off against the Wild.
“They have four pretty good lines,” Henderson said. “Their top six are pretty deep. We just need to be aware at all times on the ice and we can’t take a line for granted.”