The Langley Rivermen played their fourth game in less than a week on Sunday against the Nanaimo Clippers. It was also a busy week for the ‘Clips as they played their third game in three days on a Mainland road swing. The last time the teams met was back in November at the Frank Crane Arena where the Clippers won 6-1. James Barr would get his third start in the week, while Jayson Argue was the starter for Nanaimo.
The first period got off to a fast start in the way of the Nanaimo Clippers. Greg Fraser made a great chip pass off the wall in the neutral zone on the right-wing that landed in front of Mason Mitchell who then ripped a shot beneath the blocker of Barr to make it a 1-0 lead. Just over a minute later, the Rivermen would tie it up on a goal from BCHL leading scorer, Mario Puskarich. His line mates did some great hard work down low beneath the Nanaimo goal line and got it in front of the net for Puskarich who was denied on his first shot, but rifled in his 36th of the year on the rebound. Langley would have a power play just past the nine minute mark, but it didn’t go so well allowing a short-handed goal. Evan Campbell had his pass intercepted in the slot in by Brock Maschmeyer who then went two on two in the Rivermen zone and buried a snap shot top corner past Barr for an unassisted tally. With less than five minutes to go, Derek Sutliffe would even up the game at two. The Las Vegas native, got a pass from Mitch McLain on the right boards and skated into the slot and let a bullet go top shelf that knocked the water bottle off the net. It was an entertaining opening frame as Langley had the shot advantage at 15-9.
The second period is when the Clippers took over the game. The veteran heavy squad got back to back goals from Greg Fraser and Matt Grant in a span of just over eight minutes to take a two goal lead into the final 20 minutes. The Clippers fired 20 shots on Barr alone in the second period.
The Rivermen would need two goals to tie and the comeback trail was alive and well when Evan Campbell scored a power play goal at 7:17. Off a face off win in the Nanaimo end, Mario Puskarich made a perfect cross ice pass from the left side to an open Campbell who buried his 16 goal of the campaign. Some of the momentum the Rivermen gained off that goal, would go down after Mitchell scored a wrap around goal just before the 15 minute mark. However with time winding down, Puskarich would take a great pass in Clippers territory from Campbell and fly down the right-wing and muscle a shot between the pads of argue to make things interesting. It was Puskarich’s second of the game and third point overall. With the goalie pulled and just seconds remaining in the game, Puskarich would throw a no look pass to Matt Ustaski in front of the goal with an open look, but would be stopped by Argue, which would end the game.
For the second straight game, the Rivermen would almost complete the come back in the final period. Credit the Clippers who were without six regulars out of their line-up and still managed to pull out the 5-4 victory. Barr would be the losing goaltender facing 38 shots, while Argue picked up the win stopping 40.
The Rivermen still remain five points up over the Coquitlam Express for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Mainland division. The ‘Men have just seven games remaining on the schedule.
Although the Rivermen won just one game out of the four this week, Mario Puskarich sure had a week to remember. The veteran sniper put up seven goals and three assists and leads the BCHL in scoring with 75 points and is sure is the front-runner for the BCHL player of the week. He has had three points now in his last three outings. Austin Azurdia won the honour last week with a six point effort in three games.