Special teams were always going to be a big key to success for the Rivermen Friday night and wow was it ever. The Riv scored THREE shorthanded goals, and one on the power play to power to a 5-2 win over the visiting Surrey Eagles.
Matt Ustaski also had one of his best games of the season opening scoring in the second on the man advantage while scoring his second of the night on the penalty kill, his third shorthanded marker of the season. Not to be outdone, Captain Mitch McLain added a shorthanded goal of his own, a beauty in the second period, sprung on a break by a Zach Urban pass going backhand over Bo Didur’s glove and into the back of the net. Both McLain and Ustaski now have 15 goals on the season, tied for the team lead.
Not only did the BCHL’s top penalty kill keep the Eagles 1/8 on the power play but notched the three shorthanded and went 1/3 on the man advantage. The Riv now have 9 shorthanded goals, second most in the league.
Brock Crossthwaite earned his sixth win in his last seven starts making 26 saves for third star honours. Four Rivermen had a multi-point game with McLain leading the way (2G, 1A), along with Ustaski (2G), Jakob Reichert (2A), and Urban (2A). Gage Torrel kept his point per game pace alive with a second period even strength goal tipping in a Charlie Pelnik shot from the point. Austin Azurdia broke out of a goal scoring slump with his 10th of the season, also shorthanded, into the empty net to seal the victory.
Reichert was assessed a puzzling five minute major for a blow to the head in the third period despite never seeming to make contact with the head of Braedan Russell, but rather catching him shoulder on shoulder. Reichert did however catch Russell’s knee as the Surrey forward immediately left for the dressing room and did not return. Reichert’s penalty carries an automatic two-game suspension but that will likely be appealed as, again, there was no apparent head contact on the play.
The win Friday night gives the Rivermen a five point lead over Prince George for first in the BCHL’s Mainland division with a 21-11-1-2 record. The Riv have now won five straight over their division rivals from Surrey but have a tough test Saturday night at home to the league leading Powell River Kings on Teddy Bear Toss night.