Coquitlam Express Victorious in Nail Biter Home Opener

It’s still extremely early in the BCHL regular season, but heading into Saturday night, the Coquitlam Express sat atop the Mainland Division standings. Having won their first two games and losing their first of the season Friday night at the hands of the Langley Rivermen, the Express were looking to get out on the right foot with a win.

This would, in turn, help them gain ground on the Chiefs, who sat in second place in the Mainland division prior to Saturday night’s tilt. The Express went with the hot hand in goal as Clay Stevenson picked up a shutout in his first start of the season, his first game back since his mother tragically passed away.

Stevenson had to be sharp early as the Chiefs got two or three quality looks early on that the Coquitlam netminder turned away. The Express got the game’s opening tally when Tyler Schleppe beat Chiefs goaltender Mathieu Caron a little under four minutes into the first period.

The Chiefs answered back in a hurry, as a shot from far out found it’s way through traffic past Stevenson and into the back of the Express net. Chilliwack kept the pressure on and converted on a power play opportunity shortly after. The Express answered right back, and shortly after, it was Schleppe once again who gave his team an energy boost by finding the back of the net.

When the puck dropped to begin play in the second period, the game was tied 2-2. The Express took a penalty less than a minute in, as Connor Gregga was called for tripping early into the second. The Express managed to kill the penalty, along with another two minute minor given to captain Drew Cooper shortly thereafter.

The Rough Stuff

There were multiple post-whistle scrums that ensued in front of the Express net tonight, which led to a multitude of pushing and shoving. Later in the second, Steven Bellini took a crosscheck to the head from Chiefs’ forward Clark Nelson, who received a two minute penalty and a game misconduct as a result.

The Express were unable to capitalize and the game remained even at two apiece heading into the third period. Through 40 minutes of play, the shots were 20 25 in favour of the Chiefs, with neither side willing to give an inch up to that point; it was looking more and more like this one would be close right to the finish, in classic Chilliwack vs Coquitlam fashion.

The Express came out buzzing in the third period, and added much pressure to the Chiefs with a much different looking forecheck than seen in the first two periods. The Express defence was pinching at every chance they got, and the Chiefs struggled to break out of their own end more than once as a result.

Perhaps the most rough stuff of the tilt came 14 minutes into the third when Chiefs forward Carter Wilkie crashed hard into Clay Stevenson after the Express goaltender juggled the puck before gaining control of it with his glove.

This led to offsetting minors for Express forward Luke Burke, who came to his goaltenders defence, and Kyle Penney, the Chiefs player that got mixed up with Burke. The two exchanged words and wrestled one another to the ice before being separated by the referees.

The Express had a chance to take a late lead when Cooper Moore took a two minute minor, putting the Express on the man advantage with roughly five minutes to go. Head Coach Jason Fortier used his team’s timeout with 34 seconds remaining on the power play, and it paid off greatly.

On the following draw in the Chiefs’ zone, the Express won the draw back to the point, and it was Adam Trotman who set up Noah De La Durantaye for a one-timer, his first goal in the BCHL.

Late with the Chiefs’ net empty, Tyler Schleppe had a couple of chances to cap off the hat trick, but was unable to find the back of the net. The Chiefs turned on the pressure, but the Express and Stevenson were up to the task, as the Express secured the victory, winning by a final score of 3-2.

Fortier is impressed with the quality of the character of the players his team has brought in. “I think we’re still drinking from a fire hose right now and there’s a lot to process. Guys are still overthinking, over-processing information, but that being said, the only way to learn is to find as much information and try to process it quicker. I think they’re doing a good job, we’ve got a smart team with a lot of quality kids that we’ve brought in, and we’re really enthusiastic about the future.”

The final shots were 33-31 in favour of the Chiefs. The Express will get right back at it on Sunday when they face the Prince George Spruce Knights in the second game of their five-game homestand.