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Langley Rivermen playoff preview

The most exciting hockey has finally arrived. That’s right, I am talking about playoffs. The Langley Rivermen finished off the 2019-20 BCHL season in fourth place of the Mainland Division. It’s exactly where they sat last year at this time, and what do you know? They are playing the best team in the BCHL again. This time instead of the Chilliwack Chiefs, the Rivermen are up against the Coquitlam Express.

Here is a quick rundown on what hockey fans can expect between this two teams once the puck drops on Friday night.

Coquitlam Express

The Express finished the season with 47 wins on their way to winning theĀ Ron Boileau Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the best team in the BCHL. Coquitlam was lead by rookie forward Greg Lapointe, who finished the season with 60 points in 56 games. But that isn’t the only weapon the Express have, Steven Bellini has been dominant on the blue line finishing with 38 points including 15 power play assists. You can’t forget about Carolina Hurricanes draft pick Massimo Rizzo, who missed some time at the beginning of the season due to injury, but was still able to rack up 44 points.

The Express goaltending duo of Clay Stevenson and Jack Watson was lights out all season. Stevenson finished with 30 wins in 35 games and Watson did his part with 13 wins in 17 games. The two combined for a 2.19 GAA and earned the Wally Forslund Trophy as the top goaltending duo in the BCHL. Stevenson also earned an award for being the top goaltender in the league. However, he is ineligible to play in the playoffs due to Ivy League college regulations that state he is unable to play junior hockey after he turns 21. That day happens to be March 3, during the middle of the first round.

A big part of the success the Express saw this season was due to the man running the bench, Jason Fortier. Fortier and the Express set a new franchise record for wins this season on their way to the 47 win mark.

With an explosive forward group and a rock solid back end, the Express look like a tough team to beat.

Langley Rivermen

The Rivermen will need to rely on all four lines if they want to make some noise in the playoffs. This situation is nothing new for the team, last year they were in the same boat. They finished fourth in the Mainland Division and ended up taking the best team in the BCHL to seven games in the first round. That is exactly what they need to do in this series.

Brendan Budy returning was huge for the Rivermen this season. Budy finished with 49 points in 50 games but has been out of the lineup since February 11 with an undisclosed injury. I would imagine he is expected to be in the lineup for game one Friday night in Coquitlam. Another big factor up front for the Rivermen is Joseph Musa as the speedy forward scored 14 goals this season and picked up 35 points in his rookie campaign.

One thing the Rivermen really need to lean on during the playoffs is the play of their top defencemen. Jake Livingstone will be on the ice a lot against the Express and it’s not just because of his shut down abilities. Livingstone finished as a finalist for the BCHL’s Top Defencemen award as he earned himself 49 points, including an impressive 24 power play assists. Ryan Helliwell will also log a lot of minutes on the back end, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits the ice every time the Express’ top line goes out. Helliwell finished with 23 points, but it was his ability to play great defensively that caught the eyes of a few NHL scouts.

Goaltender Braedon Fleming will likely get the start for game one, but the Rivermen are lucky enough to have a solid one-two punch with Jonathan Mor backing Fleming up. Both goalies have shown they are capable of winning, now they need to prove they can do it in the playoffs.

The big picture

The Express won the season series over the Rivermen 6-2, but the playoffs are a whole different story. Not having Stevenson is a big blow as he was without a doubt Coquitlam’s MVP this season and that could hurt the Express in the first round. There is a lot of firepower up front, but anything can happen in the post season.

If Budy is back in the lineup for the Rivermen and they are able to get some lights out goaltending, I can see them carrying on with the upset. The returning players should have a sour taste in their mouth from last year and they will want to finish the job of taking out the best in the league. Game one goes Friday night in Coquitlam.

If you’re keeping track at home, I have the Rivermen taking the series in six games.