I had an interesting visit Sunday to the old, new home of the Langley Rivermen, the George Preston Arena, otherwise known as “The Lodge”. I have been in the building many times before but it had been several years since my last visit and the changes to the old barn have been plentiful. New lighting has made a remarkable improvement in itself while the entire facility has been repainted (mostly in Rivermen blue) while new wood style paneling has been installed to give the Lodge its namesake appeal. The arena features a video board at one end but I am told it is a temporary fix with a newer, bigger one to be installed both at that end and a twin at the other in the coming weeks. The lobby has also undergone extensive renovations with new glass and doors installed giving the 40-plus year old facility a much newer feel.
While GP is hardly the Langley Events Centre, it is far better suited for the BCHL, especially with the recently completed modifications. The LEC was simply far too big for the Rivermen and never gave the home crowd advantage you want and need. The Rivermen have never drawn particularly well despite some very entertaining teams in recent past but a crowd of 500 in GP feels a heck of a lot louder and bigger than it does in the 5200 seat LEC.
As for the game itself, well it was hardly a Picasso as the Cowichan Valley Capitals scored four power play goals en route to a 5-3 victory over the home side. It seemed to be a contest of who could turn the puck over more and as a result there was not a lot of sustained play at either end. I don’t think either coaching staff could be particularly happy but the Capitals were able to grind out the victory, their second in as many nights to conclude a long, grueling trip which began with a loss in Prince George Friday night. It was a spectacular game for alternate captain Ayden MacDonald scoring the GWG and adding three assists in front of his friends and family in his home town. The Capitals are now a very impressive 6-2-1 just a single point behind Victoria for top spot in the Island division and with a game in hand on Victoria. The Capitals haven’t been obliterating teams but have adopted a lunch bucket mentality and have been grinding out wins. It’s a method of winning that can work wonders in the BCHL and so far so good for the Caps who are surprising quite a few early this season. A big test comes this weekend where Cowichan plays three games in three nights starting out with a first place showdown in Victoria Friday followed by hosting Trail Saturday and Powell River Sunday. A week from today we may have a better idea if these Capitals are for real.
The Rivermen have certainly had a less than ideal start. Picking up just a single point in their last five games Langley has been outscored in that same time frame by a 28-18 margin. 2-5-0-1 will not be sitting well with Bobby Henderson and his staff. Yes it is early but the Rivermen will need to pick things up pretty soon.
Speaking of the Kings, don’t look now but after an 0-4 start to the season they’ve rattled off six straight wins, most recently a 3-2 victory on home ice against the Grizzlies. In my season preview I mentioned the Kings as division contenders based largely on their veteran laded roster with plenty of offensive weapons. They started slow just as they did last year but they have hit their stride since.
The two-time defending division champion Clippers have had a rough start to say the least. Nanaimo lost their third in a row Wednesday night in humiliating fashion falling 7-1 to the Kings in Powell River. Sophomore forward Carter Turnbull lit it up with a hat trick as the Kings made the Clippers pay for undisciplined play scoring two power play goals on nine chances. The Clippers has long relied heavily on physical intimidation and sometimes dirty play, especially when things don’t go their way in the third period. In that third period Wednesday the Clippers took: 4 roughing minors, 1 cross-check, 1 blow to the head minor, and 5 misconducts. The Clippers did bounce back with a 4-1 win over the visiting Coquitlam Express Saturday but fell 5-3 to the Vipers Sunday afternoon. I may be sounding overly critical of the Clippers but it’s a trend over the last several years that for one thing hasn’t yielded the results the team has been looking for. Yes they have advanced to the third round of the playoffs each of the last two seasons but you have to wonder how much the “old-time hockey” philosophy hindered them going even deeper? The Clippers are far from the only team that sink to this type of play but they seem to do it on a far more consistent basis than any other in the BCHL. The game is evolving and as such the approach needs to evolve with it or risk getting left behind.
The Wenatchee Wild have once again stormed out of the gate with a tremendous 6-0-1 start to the season and remain the only team left yet to lose in regulation. Saturday night the Wild absolutely destroyed the Silverbacks with five goals in the first period alone en route to a 9-0 drubbing. That result, in my opinion, is another case of the Wild are good but not THAT good and the Silverbacks are obviously not that bad. But Salmon Arm sure does have their work cut out for them. Playing in the league’s most competitive division, the Silverbacks can’t afford their poor start to last much longer. Winning just twice in their first eight games and with a league worst goal differential of -18, the Apes must turn this around quickly. The Silverbacks did get Brandon Kegler back from the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes last week which should shore up their crease although he did let in 3 of his first nine shots faced Saturday.
The Penticton Vees earned a pair of weekend wins to remain atop the Interior division now at 7-1. Friday night the Vees earned a 3-1 win over the Warriors in their first visit to Royal LePage Place since being bounced from the playoffs in the second round last season. But it was Saturday night’s home opener at the South Okanagan Events Centre that provided some real dramatics. The Trail Smoke Eaters were in town and looking to salvage a weekend that started with a loss Thursday night in Prince George. Things appeared to be going Trail’s way well into the third period when Ross Armour, newly committed to Bemidgi State, scored the go-ahead goal with less than five minutes remaining. But you had to know the Vees weren’t done yet. And true to form, Grant Cruikshank tied things up at 3 with 1:34 remaining in regulation. Forcing double overtime it seemed as if the game was destined to end in a draw but with less than one second on the clock, Vees captain Nick Jones scored the game winner. A heartbreaking way to lose for the Smokies to be sure, but they did pick up a valuable single point, now three points back of fourth place West Kelowna and one ahead of Salmon Arm.
Now not only was that game in Penticton a last second thriller but Saturday night featured TWO such games! The Surrey Eagles can share in the Smoke Eaters’ pain as the Chilliwack Chiefs’ captain Jordan Kawaguchi scored the game winner, his second goal of the game, with one second left in double OT. I’d like to know the Vegas bookie odds on two such games ending in the same fashion in the same night let alone the same season! This was the second half of a home-and-home set between the Eagles and Chiefs with Surrey ending their season starting winless streak Thursday night in extraordinary fashion. Not only did the lowly Eagles earn their first win in eight months but they beat the two-time Mainland division champions 8-2. It was a shocking result to say the least. But that’s the nature of the game and it is as we say why we play the games in the first place. But Surrey wasn’t content with that being a one off as they earned three of four points last week against the Chiefs, perhaps the Eagles’ most impressive week in more than 2 years. Averaging four goals per game, this is an Eagles team that can certainly score. And their back end has also improved from last season with a goal differential of just -3. Let’s see how Surrey performs this coming week with a tough test in Vernon Friday night followed by a visit to Salmon Arm on Saturday. This franchise will need to put together a decent string of say at least a month before anyone can definitively say they are out of the Canadian Junior hockey cellar.