Rivermen clinch Mainland Division

One championship down, one still up for grabs for the Langley Rivermen.

An 8-5 win over the Chilliwack Chiefs on home ice Friday clinched the B.C. Hockey League Mainland Division regular season title for the junior A Rivermen.

Coupled with a 3-3 tie with the Prince George Spruce Kings Sunday afternoon at the Langley Events Centre, the Rivermen boast an impressive 35-13-1-5 record with two games to go in their season.

The second place Spruce Kings (32-18-4-2) are eight points back of the ‘Men with two games remaining in their campaign. Even if the Spruce Kings sweep the Rivermen in their two game series this weekend in Prince George, they won’t catch the Rivermen.

“It [the division title] was a goal from start of the year but it’s by no means what we hope to accomplish overall for the season,” Rivermen head coach Bobby Henderson said. “It’s part of the process. It’s a nice token for our guys. They worked hard for it through the year, but obviously the playoff championship is what we want. Nonetheless, it’s a title.”

It’s still down to the wire for the Ron Boileau Memorial Trophy as BCHL regular season titleholders. The Rivermen and Island Division-leading Victoria Grizzlies have 78 points each.

Rivermen 3, Prince George Spruce Kings 3

Sunday afternoon’s draw was a fitting closure to the latest chapter in what has been a tightly fought season series between the two division rivals.

Despite numerous quality scoring chances in both overtime periods, the Rivermen couldn’t come away with the second point as they now have 29 of their last possible 34 points since the start of 2014.

"We played a pretty decent hockey game," Henderson said. "We made a few small mistakes that cost us but all in all, we played a pretty damned good game. A couple of small mistakes cost us, that’s it."

For the second game in a row the Rivermen allowed the first goal early as Brogan O’Brien scored his ninth from Stephen Penner and Braiden Epp less than four minutes in. 

But also for the second straight game, Matt Ustaski tied up the game later in the period, this time scoring his 26th on the power play from Tyson Witala and Jakob Reichert. 

That same line combined again with just 30 seconds left in the period as Witala took a nice feed from Riechert before roofing his 13th of the season and second in as many games to put the Rivermen up 2-1 heading into the break.

After a scoreless second, the Spruce Kings took advantage of a five minute major penalty to James Robinson as Skylar Pacheco blasted home his eighth to tie the game at two midway through the final frame. 

Just over two minutes later, the Rivermen took back the lead as Evan Anderson scored his fourth in the last two games and sixth of the season.

But the pesky Spruce Kings got the tying marker with 90 seconds on the clock thanks to Mitch Eden’s ninth of the campaign.

Rivermen 8, Chilliwack Chiefs 5

It was a bit of a hot mess, but enough to get the job done.

In a game that featured 13 goals, the Rivermen outscored the Chiefs Friday at the Langley Events Centre.

For the Rivermen, the win clinched the Mainland Division championship, marking their first regular season division title in franchise history.

Five different players scored for the Chiefs, who, with a 13-36-2-5 record, are destined to finish last in the five-team Mainland.

There were a few moments when the game had about as much defence and intensity as a noon hour drop-in hockey session.

“I thought both teams played well offensively, but there wasn’t a lot of defence and there was not a ton of physicality,” Henderson said. “When you’re playing a team that’s mathematically out of the playoffs, you kind of expect that.”

The teams traded chances with impunity.

“I think our mindset was pretty strong out of the gate, but as the game evolved, the guys loosened their belts a bit and got caught up in the style of play that they [the Chiefs] wanted to play,” Henderson said. “They want to play an up tempo, run-and-gun game, and we’ve got the guys that can skate with them. But lots of goals was entertaining for the fans.”

The beneficiaries of the shaky defence was the Rivermen’s Ustaski and Anderson, both of whom recorded hat tricks.

Witala, on a nifty behind-the-net feed from Darien Craighead, and Kevan Kilistoff, who cruised in untouched on a shot, picked up his own rebound, and swept the puck into the net, scored the other Rivermen goals.

Langley was forced to pull its goaltender after Lyndon Stanwood surrendered Chilliwack’s fourth goal (on a Chiefs power play) at the 12 minute mark of the second period.

Brock Crossthwaite came in and was solid the rest of the way, stopping 12 of 13 Chiefs shots.

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