Rivermen take game one of doubleheader; set franchise mark in wins

Mario Puskarich was up to his old tricks as he netted his third hat-trick of the season

Mario Puskarich was up to his old tricks as he came away with his third hat-trick of the season

The Langley Rivermen and Prince George Spruce Kings got acquainted with one another for the first time in 103 days on Thursday night up in Prince George. It was the first ever trip for the Rivermen up to the Prince George Coliseum and the teams would play a doubleheader to make the ‘Men’s long trip worth while. Coming into the contest, the Rivermen had a 3-2 win advantage in the season series. In goal, it was the battle of the Surrey boys as James Barr would get his sixth straight start, while Kirk Thompson would go for PG.

The Rivermen got off to a fantastic start as leading scorer Mario Puskarich opened the scoring at the 3:23 mark on the power play. The Florida product skated into the PG zone, lost the puck going to the net, got it back before Thompson could cover it and buried it blocker side for his 32nd of the year. James Barr would make multiple stops over the next 10 minutes, and his team rewarded him with another goal. It came off the same stick of Mario Puskarich once again as he found a loose puck at the side of the net off a turnover from a Spruce Kings defender and stuffed home a back-hander on yet another power play. Less than a minute later, Mitch McLain would fire home a rebound off a shot from Derek Sutliffe to make it a 3-0 score going into the second period. It was a great road start for the team, but were out shot 13-9.

The first nine minutes of the middle frame went back and forth, but Evan Campbell made it a 4-0 game before the 10 minute mark hit. The Port Coquitlam native took a pass from Austin Azurdia through centre ice, stepped around Mitch Eden and jammed in his 14th goal of the season through the five-hole of Thompson, which chased him from the game. The move seemed to spark the ‘Kings as they got on the board courtesy of Bryant Christian who found a loose puck in the slot and rifled a shot past Barr. The Spruce Kings would pepper Barr throwing 28 pucks on net alone in the period, but Langley had a three goal lead after 40 minutes at 4-1.

The Rivermen have let a few leads slip away against Prince George this season, but not this time around. Mitch McLain would score a beautiful goal on a two on one with Sutliffe. McLain decided to hang on to the puck down the left-wing and was able to drag it around a sliding defenseman and whistled in his 14th goal through the legs of Liam McLeod. With Langley on another man advantage, Mario Puskarich would cap off the hat-trick on a pretty goal set up by Jakob Reichert. The   big winger, would take the puck from his own end and muscle his way around two Spruce Kings, and then slid a perfect pass to an open Puskarich for his 34th goal. The Spruce Kings would not give up scoring back to back with tallies from Cam Lawson and Stephen Penner. It was Penner’s first BCHL goal in his first ever game, but in the end it was the ‘Men doubling up the Spruce Kings 6-3.

By the time the final buzzer sounded, Barr would face 49 shots on the night, while Langley would fire 22 towards the combination of Thompson and McLeod. Puskarich would be named the first star netting a hat-trick (all three on the power play) and padded his lead in the race for the Brett Hull Trophy. Barr would be the second star picking up his 17th win, and Mark Whiteley had a solid night racking up four assists and was the third star. It was a complete team effort from start to finish and with the win it set a new single season franchise record in wins with 20.

The two squads will do it all over again at the Prince George Coliseum at 7:00 PM. The ‘Men are now just six points back of the Spruce Kings for third place.

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