The Langley Rivermen made history, capturing the B.C. Hockey League’s Ron Boileau Memorial Trophy as the regular season champions.
It marks the first time in the 32-year history of junior A hockey in Langley — spanning the Lords of the 1970s, the Eagles of the 1980s, the Thunder of the 1990s, the Hornets of the late 90s and early 2000s, the Chiefs from 2006 to 2011 and finally the Rivermen the past three years — that a Langley team has won the trophy.
“It is a heck of an honour,” said Bobby Henderson, the team’s head coach and general manager.
“It is not our main goal, but it was one of our goals.
“To put yourself in that position after 58 games says a lot about your character.”
“It is something that the guys can carry with them for the rest of their hockey careers and the rest of their lives.”
The Rivermen clinched the honour on Friday night with a 2-1 victory over the Prince George Spruce Kings at the Prince George Coliseum.
Langley also beat the Spruce Kings 5-3 the night before to sweep the two-game road trip and finish the regular season with a record of 37-13-3-5 and 82 points. It was 12 more than second-place Prince George for the Mainland Division title and two more than the Island-Division winning Victoria Grizzlies, who finished second overall in the BCHL.
But while the division title and regular season are both nice achievements, the next step in the ultimate goal — a national championship — begins as the Rivermen begin the BCHL playoffs and the road to the Fred Page Cup.
Langley will face the fourth-place Surrey Eagles in the best-of-seven series with games one and two at the Langley Events Centre tonight (Tuesday) and tomorrow (March 5).
Games three and four are at the South Surrey Arena on Friday and Saturday.
“I think we match up well,” Henderson said.
“(But) I think we match up well against anybody.”
During the regular season, the two local rivals squared off eight times with the Rivermen winning six. The two losses both came in overtime, one in the team’s first head-to-head game and then in their last meeting.
Langley out-scored Surrey 32-19 in the eight games, with 10 of the Eagles’ goals coming in their two victories.
Despite the lack of success, Surrey coach Peter Schaefer is OK with drawing the Rivermen in round one.
“They’re a very good team, but we are very comfortable with that matchup,” he told Black Press a few weeks ago before it was determined the two teams would face off.
The Eagles finished with 53 points, 29 behind Langley.
And while Surrey had the slightly better offence — 3.47 goals per game compared to Langley’s 3.45 — the big difference is in goals against. Langley was second stingiest in the league with 2.67 goals against per game while Surrey allowed an even four goals per game, which is last among the 12 playoffs teams and 14th out of the 16 BCHL teams.
And Henderson said his team’s success starts from their goaltending and play in their own zone.
“If we have good structure defensively, then we will have success,” he said. “If we get loose and sloppy, Surrey is an opportunistic team that can get goals and will capitalize.
“It is just a matter of eliminating our mistakes.”
The Rivermen had six players pass the 40-point plateau, led by captain Mitch McLain’s 60 points in 57 games. They also had nine players get at least 10 goals and Matt Ustaski had a team-leading 29.
Brock Crossthwaite carried the bulk of the load in goal, finishing with a record of 24-9-1 with three shutouts (tied for second), a 2.42 GAA (fourth in the league) and a .913 save percentage (eighth).
Surrey was led offensively by Danton Heinen.
The Langley Minor Hockey Association product led all rookies in scoring with 29 goals and 62 points to finish 10th in league scoring.
Heinen, an 18-year-old from Langley, also committed to Denver University last week.
— with file from Nick Greenizan/Black Press