Two more wins push Rivermen streak to four games

Langley Rivermen
Langley Rivermen's Mario Puskarich is rubbed out along the boards by Cowichan Valley Capitals' Nathan Deyell on Sunday at the Langley Events Centre. Puskarich scored twice — he leads the BCHL with 26 goals and 52 points — in a 4-3 Rivermen overtime victory, the team's fourth straight win.
— image credit: Miranda Gathercole/Langley Times

Two more victories — and points in eight of their past 10 games — have the Langley Rivermen playing some of their best hockey of the season.

The Rivermen were perfect on the weekend, beating the first-place Chilliwack Chiefs 6-3 on Saturday night at Chilliwack's Prospera Centre and then the following afternoon at the Langley Events Centre, a 4-3 overtime win against the last-place Cowichan Valley Capitals.

The four points improve Langley to 15-14-1-5 and gives them a three-point cushion, with a game in hand, over the fifth-place Coquitlam Express.

"Everybody is clicking right now," said Langley coach and general manager Bobby Henderson.

"Everybody is playing to their capability. We have four lines going and three D-pairings; goaltending has been good and everybody is contributing."

The victory over Chilliwack was the first time Langley's new junior A hockey club beat Langley's old team since the Rivermen's inception last year.

"It was nice to get that monkey off our back," Henderson said. "And to do it in their building was good."

Evan Campbell, Trevor Cope and James Robinson staked Langley to a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes before Mathieu Tibbet made it 3-1 early in the second. Chilliwack controlled the middle frame, firing 19 shots on goaltender Darren Hogg, who was up to the task, stopping 18 of them. Hogg was a surprise starter — making his first start since Nov. 17 — as James Barr was a late scratch

The final 20 minutes were the most entertaining of the game.

After Mitch McLain made it 4-1, former Rivermen player Austin Plevy scored twice in a 15-second span to cut the score to 4-3.

But a timeout by the Rivermen helped settle things down and the team locked it down defensively for the final 14 minutes.

Ben Butcher then banked a shot off a Chilliwack defender and in for a 5-3 lead and Mitch McLain rounded things out with an empty net goal.

Hogg made 43 saves.

Any chance of a letdown against the last-place Capitals the next afternoon, was quickly put to rest as Mario Puskarich put the home side up five minutes in.

Derek Sutliffe doubled the lead 10 minutes later, but Cowichan Valley struck for a pair of quick goals 37 seconds apart from Jarrett Brown and Teal Burns in the last two minutes to tie the score.

After neither team scored in the second, Puskarich notched his second of the game and league-leading 26th goal of the season to put the team ahead 3-0. The lead was short-lived however, as Tyler Mueller squared things up a few minutes later.

But in overtime, it was all Langley as the Rivermen fired the only five shots of the extra period, ending the game when Sutliffe scored his second of the game, burying a rebound off a shot by McLain.

Hogg made 27 saves for the win.

Sutliffe, who had two goals and an assist on the weekend, was named the BCHL player of the week on Monday.

"The points are huge," Henderson said. "(And) the Sunday games are always tough, but at the end of the day, they found a way to get it done so we will take the two points."

While his team is trending in the right direction, Henderson said there is still work to be done.

"Obviously it is nice to get some wins, but we can still improve," he said.

"There are lots of areas we need to work on and we are aware of that.

"It might not be glaring mistakes, but within our group, there are certain fundamentals and habits that we try and have, just something that we are always trying to work on.

(But) we like the signs we are seeing."

A big difference between this season and last is goal scoring.

In 2011/12, the Rivermen were last in the Coastal Conference and second-last in the BCHL with 2.90 goals per game. By comparison, with one-third of the season remaining, Langley is tops in the league with 3.54 goals per game. Not surprisingly, the Rivermen are on pace for 58 points, a 14-point improvement over last year.

"Give our forwards credit, they can all skate and they are all pretty aggressive players," said Henderson.

"They have a good combination of skill and compete and are finding some chemistry."

The Rivermen will look to make it five in a row when they host the Penticton Vees on Saturday (Jan. 12) at the Langley Events Centre. Puck drop is 7:15 p.m. The team also hosts the South Surrey Eagles at the LEC on Jan. 13 at 2 p.m.

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