The game meant nothing in the standings to either team and that might have taken some of the nasty stuff out of it between two bitter BCHL rivals.
But that didnt stop the Langley Rivermen from being a thorn in the pride of the Prince George Spruce Kings. They treated Thursdays game at the Coliseum like a tune-up for their playoff act and stole the show with a 5-3 victory.
Langley left winger Mitch McLain did the damage in the third period, tipping the balance of what was a deadlocked game with the gamewinner 13:33 into the third period. Matt Ustaski followed up with an empty-netter, his second of the game in the final minute, to stick in the fork.
With no potential for movement in the standings and playoffs just around the corner, desperation was never the theme but, on the other hand, neither team was willing to just go through the motions.
These are the top two teams in the BCHL Mainland Division and for the most part they looked the part in what was a close game pretty much from start to finish.
The Kings were down 3-2 heading into the third period but didnt take long to erase the deficit. Braiden Epp slapped in a perfect pass in the slot from linemate Jake LeBrun just 1:16 into the period. That tie lasted until McLain finished off a strong burst of puck control from his forward line deep in the Kings end, picking the corner high on Jesse Jenks, who was under siege.
To start the game, Justin Rai was in the stands resting up an injury, and that left a hole in the Spruce Kings lineup for 16-year-old winger Austin Gray, who got called up from the Coast Inn of the North midget Tier 1 Cougars for his first BCHL game.
The Kings were trailing 2-0 early in the second period when Gray found himself in the right place at the right time after Langley goalie Brock Crossthwaite had trouble with a shot from Bryant Christian. Crossthwaite thought he had the puck covered but it was left at the edge of the post for Gray, who had an easy tap-in for his first junior goal.
The Kings fed off that energy and had the puck in the offensive end a lot more after a shaky first period. The Rivermen got into some penalty trouble and with Yale recruit Viktor Dombrovskiy serving a double minor for high-sticking, the Kings Washington state connection -- Chad Staley and Jeremiah Luedtke -- combined to strike on the power play as they often have this season. A nice play by pointman Brogan OBrien to hold the puck in at the blueline gave Luedtke the puck behind the net and he fed it to Staley, whose toe-drag shot found the net.
Prince George native Tyson Witala deflected in a point shot for his 14th of the season to restore Langleys lead on a power play just before the second intermission.
Langley had the early jump in the first period, scoring on a sharp-angle shot from the corner from Jakob Reichert that goalie Jesse Jenks should have stopped, but with his knees down on the ice the puck found some daylight between his pads. Reichert, who finished with three assists, set up the only other goal of opening period, dishing a pass to his linemate Ustaski on a 2-on-1 one-timer that left Jenks hung out to dry.
LOOSE PUCKS: Before the puck drop Thursday, the Spruce Kings paid tribute to longtime volunteer Gwen Poburan, who died Feb. 21 after an extended illness, one day before her 62nd birthday... The playoffs start Tuesday. The Kings host the Coquitlam Express in the first game of best-of-seven series. Game 2 is set for Wednesday. The first-place Rivermen take on the Surrey Eagles in their first-round series... The Spruce King learned D Cooper Rush will be out for another month with his knee injury. That means the Kings will have to go deep in the playoffs for the 20-year-old to play another game of junior hockey. The six-foot-seven Oakville, Ont., native joined the Kings in early January in a trade from Chilliwack and got hurt in his first game with the Kings.
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