Rivermen net first division title
For the first time in 14 years, a Langley junior hockey club has captured a BCHL division title.
The Langley Rivermen assured themselves of top spot in the Mainland Division after an 8-5 victory over the Chilliwack Chiefs last week (Feb. 21) at the Langley Events Centre.
The last time a Langley junior A club won a division title was the 1999/2000 season when the Hornets took top spot with 84 points (44-12-4).
The Rivermen also played the Prince George Spruce Kings to a 3-3 tie in the regular season home finale at the LEC on Sunday afternoon.
And the results improved Langley to 35-13-3-5 and their 78 points also have them in contention for the top spot overall in the BCHL.
With two games to play, the Rivermen are tied with the Island Division-leading Victoria Grizzlies. Powell River, Penticton and West Kelowna also remain in the hunt with 74 points. Powell River has three games to play and the other two squads have two.
While qualifying for the playoffs was step two, winning the division is the second step towards the ultimate goal of winning a national championship.
"All part of the process," said Rivermen head coach and general manager Bobby Henderson.
"Obviously it is a nice recognition but the players have bigger things in sight."
Langley has used a spectacular run since the calendar flipped to 2014, earning 29 of a possible 34 points in the 17 games since Jan. 1, with only one regulation loss in that span (13-1-1-2).
"Overall team balance," said Henderson when asked what the key has been to the team's consistency.
"Collectively we have a bunch of different pieces of the puzzle and they all bring something different."
The Rivermen's success starts from their goaltending as they sit tied for second in the league in goals against, allowing 2.70 goals per game. They are also fifth in goal differential at plus-42.
In the game against the Chiefs, the Rivermen played uncharacteristically, getting involved in a back-and-forth shootout.
"Chilliwack has been opening up things lately," Henderson said.
"It wasn't ideal for our team to play like that, but we were able to pick up the win.
"But that is not the way we want to play in the playoffs."
Langley trailed briefly 1-0 but led 3-1 after one and 6-4 after 40 minutes.
Both Evan Anderson and Matt Ustaski picked up hat tricks in the victory while Viktor Dombrovskiy had three assists. Tyson Witala and Kevan Kilistoff had a goal and a helper apiece.
Against the Spruce Kings, the Rivermen had to settle for one point, despite a dozen shots on goal in overtime.
Henderson felt the team should have won in regulation.
"But at the end of the day, we picked up a point against a tough team," he said.
Ustaski, Witala and Anderson had the goals while Brock Crossthwaite stopped 34 of 37 shots he faced.
The Rivermen close the regular season with a pair of road games Feb. 27 and 28 at the Prince George Coliseum.
Round one of the Mainland Division semifinals get underway with the Rivermen hosting the Surrey Eagles.
Games one and two of the best-of-seven series are March 4 and 5 at the Langley Events Centre, before the series shifts to the South Surrey Arena for games three and four on March 7 and 8.
If necessary, game five would be March 10 back at the LEC while game six would be in Surrey the following.
And if the series needs a seventh and deciding game, it would be played on March 12 but would be held at the George Preston Recreation Centre.