I don’t think the home town fans could have asked for a better effort from the Rivermen in the home opener. It was mostly a one-sided affair from start to finish in what turned out to be a 7-0 win for the Rivermen on the special night. It was a total team effort from the goaltender on out and it was great to see the hard work in practice paying off out on the ice on Saturday night. Ben Butcher had a night to remember along with his line mates. The Bellingham native notched a hat trick and an assist while Puskarich helped out with two goals and three assists and Evan Campbell who is the third member of that line put up a goal and two helpers in his season debut. Not a bad 11 point night combined for that trio. James Barr looked confident as ever picking up his first shutout in between the pipes for the ‘Men in the win.
The Rivermen came out of the gates flying and really fed off the crowds energy early on. Austin Azurdia continued his point streak to four games as he opened up the scoring on the power play. Azurdia was the beneficiary of a fantastic cross crease pass from Trevor Cope down low at the side of the net. Azurdia made no mistake slipping a shot past Bulldog netminder Adam Todd. Just over two minutes later, Mario Puskarich scored his first of the season on a great individual effort on the power play. Puskarich made spectacular one on one move on a ‘Dog defender down the right-wing and ripped a snap shot low blocker for his first of the season. That tally was vintage Mario as he made a great deke and danced around his man to make that entire goal happen. The power play was the difference in the opening frame for the Rivermen as they went 2/3 on the man advantage.
The second period scoring got started quickly just over a minute in with a power play goal from Ben Butcher. On a desperation play on the rush Butcher poked a pass that was out of his reach towards the net and somehow beat the goaltender by surprise to make it a 3-0 Rivermen score. After both teams traded power plays back and forth for the next 10 minutes, Puskarich notched his second of the game on a beautiful play set up by Bo Pellah. The slick play-making defenseman spotted a wide open Puskarich at the back door who then smacked home a perfect shot to make it a 4-0 game. That pass alone from Pellah made his case as to why he was ranked in NHL Central Scouting this past week. You just can’t teach that type of poise and patience. The second stanza was penalty riddled to say the least as the referees handed out 82 penalty minutes combined!
The Rivermen really put the game away in the final period. Ben Butcher opened up the scoring again for the second straight period jamming home a loose puck on the power play. Evan Campbell then scored his first of the season on a great set up from Puskarich behind the net to make it 6-0. Butcher then capped off the hat trick after Mitch McLain fired a shot off his shin pad and in to the back of the net. It wasn’t pretty but the kid will take it and definitely earned that goal as he got robbed of the ‘Trick a few minutes before that. Butcher came flying down the right-wing and a let a great snap shot go that beat the goaltender over the shoulder and pinged off what looked like the crossbar and out. At the time the referee waved it off and play resumed, but after further review, the replay showed the puck clearly hit the inside bar beneath the cross-bar and should have counted. None the less, at the end of the day the Rivermen and Butcher didn’t worry about it and were more than happy with the two points.
James Barr picked up his second victory of the season and his first shutout to go along with it. Overall the Rivermen were 3/11 on the power play while the Bulldogs finished 0/6 on the night. The Rivermen will look to ride the momentum into to the interior next weekend with a game at the Nicola Valley Arena in Merritt on Friday night.