The Langley Rivermen and Merritt Centennials put on an offensive show on Tuesday night for the fans at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena in a game that ended in a 5-5 tie. Langley was playing their fourth game of the pre-season and their second game in two nights, while Merritt was playing their first of exhibition play.
The Rivermen got off to a fast start as Austin Azurdia opened up the scoring just over a minute in. After the ‘Cents hit the post, Azurdia raced down the other end and funneled the puck towards the net which banked off a body in front and into the net behind Tyler Steel. The Rivermen added to the lead a few minutes later and it was courtesy of former Centennial Jakob Reichert. The Langley native muscled his way towards the net and jammed home his own rebound with a couple of ‘Cents defenders draped all over him. Reichert’s line was back at it again, but this time on the power play. With some swift puck movement down in the Merritt zone, Victor Dombrovskiy found an open Mario Puskarich in the slot who then swept a blind backhand shot between the five hole of Steel for a 3-0 Rivermen lead. Conor Barrie was solid in the opening period as he turned away all 11 shots he faced. I was curious to see what kind of team we would see off the hop due to playing last night and the two hour bus trip up to Merritt, but the Rivermen had great energy throughout the entire 20 minutes.
The second period did not go so well for the Rivermen as the Centennials began to come to life. Derek Huisman got his team on the board early on in the period as he came down the left wing and fired a bullet over the glove of Barrie. Shortly after, the ‘Cents cut the lead to one as Jeff Wight found a loose puck in the slot and banged it home for his first of the pre-season. In the late stages of the period, they then found the equalizer and it came off the stick of Danton Heinen on another scramble in front of the Rivermen goal. The Centennials looked like a completely different team as they controlled most of the play in the second frame, while the Rivermen had an off period to say the least.
The third period was anyone’s game as it was knotted up at 3-3 and Merritt took the lead just after the two minute mark. Diego Cuglietta scored a beautiful goal as he deked around the Rivermen defense and ripped home a shot top corner past Barrie. The lead did not last long as Mitch McLain went to work. With Mario Puskarich fanning on a shot in the attacking zone, McLain scooped up the loose puck and fired home a quick wrist shot to tie the game. McLain continues to impress as he has scored at least a goal in every game he has played in thus far and has six points in his last two games. The Centennials would get their lead right back however, as Derek Huisman popped in his second of the game off a rebound on a three on one opportunity. With under five minutes to go and the Rivermen shorthanded, Derek Sutliffe took the game into his own hands and scored the game tying goal and what an effort it was. After picking up the puck through the neutral zone, Sutliffe was one on one with a Merritt defensemen and he executed the perfect toe drag around him and hammered a snap shot over the shoulder of the Merritt goaltender to even it up at 5-5. That is how the game would end, as exhibition play does not include overtime.
Once again the top line of Reichert, McLain, and Puskarich were fantastic combining for another eight points. Barrie ended up facing 21 shots(seems wrong to me) while the Rivermen put 37 pucks towards the tandem of Steel/Burguart. The Rivermen have one last pre-season game left and that will be against the Wenatchee Wild at the Aldergrove Arena on Sunday.
Rivermen: GOALS: Azurdia: 1, Reichert: 1, Puskarich: 1, McLain: 1, Sutliffe: 1
Assists: Puskarich 2, McLain: 2, Reichert: 1, Greiner: 1, Dombrovskiy: 1,
Centennials: GOALS: Huisman: 2, Wight: 1, Heinen: 1, Cuglietta: 1
Assists: Steel: 2, Harper: 1, Martin: 1, Lohan: 1, Wight: 1