It wasn’t the start the Rivermen were looking for but it was the finish the team needed earning a 4-2 win to take a 1-0 lead in the Mainland division semi-final series with the Surrey Eagles.
Perhaps it was a case of some playoff jitters and nerves, but the underdog Eagles played the way they needed to, using their speed and energy to take the early lead outshooting the Rivermen 7-3 through 20 minutes. The break was a clear turning point as the Rivermen came out a different looking squad in the second, a frame that had the home team outshoot their cross-town rivals 15-3, and outscoring them 3-0 taking a two-goal lead into the third.In fact it was two goals in just 9 seconds that broke open the game in favour of the Riv as Marcus Vela jammed home a loose puck for his first career BCHL playoff goal, picking up a rebound after Gage Torrel stole the puck along the nearside boards. Off the ensuing faceoff, Evan Anderson managed to calm a bouncing puck and snapped it past Bo Didur on a goal that stood up as the game winner when all was said and done.
Give credit though to the Eagles who battled hard consistently throughout while Didur made several enormous saves to keep his team in it. Peter Schaefer gambled by pulling Didur with three minutes on the clock but his move paid off as Anthony Conti got his second with a nice tip-in at the top of the crease to pull the visitors within one with two and a half minutes to go. The late push wasn’t enough though as Jakob Reichert got the puck in the neutral zone and skated it up ice sliding it into the empty net with less than a full second left on the clock.
The Eagles were obviously prepared and showed no signs of rust despite more than a week off from game action. The underdogs played their role well with no pressure and simply stuck to their style and it nearly paid off. The Rivermen got away with a sluggish start and then turned it on in the second and third. If the Riv pick up where they left off to start on Wednesday, they will be less likely to have to battle from behind for so long.
Brock Crossthwaite was also very strong in net after allowing that early Conti goal in the first that saw the rookie power to the net. With 25 saves he earned his first career BCHL playoff win looking calm throughout. Ustaski and McLain both had two points highlighted by the captain’s pass from down low out to Ustaski in the low slot on the power play which got the Riv on the board early in the second.
In addition to his late third period goal, Reichert had a number of other offensive zone chances and rightfully earned the Fortis BC Energy Player of the Game. Vela’s second period goal was almost a bonus for the 17-year old who played very strong in his first playoff game.
The Rivermen know they have another big test right in front of them Wednesday night as game 2 is set against what is sure to be another hard working Surrey team that will absolutely be gunning for the split before the series shifts to the South Surrey Arena Friday night for game 3.
Innovative Fitness Langley 3 Stars
1 – Matt Ustaski (2G, set up several other good chances, and had another excellent night in the face-off circle)
2 – Anthony Conti (2G, the rookie power forward was strong as the only Eagle to find the back of the net)
3 – Mitch McLain (2A, the Captain showed up and led by example)