Sports

Big things expected for Rivermen

Langley Rivermen’s Austen Bietenbeck pursues Coquitlam Express’ Josh Smith during BCHL preseason action on Aug. 25. The Rivermen, who went 3-1 in the preseason, begin play for real this weekend in Chilliwack at the Bauer BCHL Showcase Event. - Dan Ebenal/Black Press
Langley Rivermen’s Austen Bietenbeck pursues Coquitlam Express’ Josh Smith during BCHL preseason action on Aug. 25. The Rivermen, who went 3-1 in the preseason, begin play for real this weekend in Chilliwack at the Bauer BCHL Showcase Event.
— image credit: Dan Ebenal/Black Press

Rankings are just rankings, but it looks like big things are expected for the Langley Rivermen junior A hockey club.

The Rivermen open hockey season season ranked 15th in the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s top-20 preseason rankings. They are also third among teams from the B.C. Hockey League, behind only the Penticton Vees (second) and Vernon Vipers (fifth).

“It is nice to be recognized but it really doesn’t mean much at this point,” said Bobby Henderson, who begins his second season as the team’s head coach.

Last year’s group made the BCHL post-season but they lost in the opening round to the Surrey Eagles.

Henderson called that a step in the right direction but added this year the expectations are even greater.

“Over the past couple of years, we have laid the foundation (but) our goal is to win a championship this year,” he said.

And the pieces are in place to make it a reality.

The Rivermen boast a strong returning core with a dozen of the 22 players having played for Langley last season.

The team did lose a couple of key players — Mario Puskarich, who won the Brett Hull Trophy as the BCHL’s top scorer and Evan Campbell, who was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers and is now playing NCAA hockey — so their 61 goals and 155 points will need to be replaced.

“I think we are a pretty well balanced team this year,” Henderson said, pointing out that players like James Robinson, Matt Ustaski, Evan Anderson and Mitch McLain should lead the team up front.

The defence will be anchored by the returning trio of Tanner Johnson, Viktor Dombrovskiy and Mark Whiteley.

James Barr returns as the No. 1 goaltender for a second straight year.

The team also has a strong recruiting class which, added all together, has the coach excited.

“We will play uptempo and we are going to compete hard, those are always going to be characteristics of our team,” Henderson said.

“We should be a nice skating team with a good skill set and have four lines that are ready to contribute.”

The team went 3-1 in the preseason with their lone loss coming at the hands of the SFU hockey team.

McLain, who last week committed to Bowling Green University, will captain the team. The alternate captains had not been named as of Tuesday afternoon.

McLain became the fifth member of the team to commit to an NCAA school and Henderson expects more players to do so in the coming months.

The team opens the BCHL season tomorrow (Friday) as they take part in the league-wide BCHL Showcase Event being held at Chilliwack’s Prospera Place.

The team’s home opener is set for Sept. 20 at the Langley Events Centre.

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