by Jacob Lazare
Another BCHL season is upon us, and optimism surrounds a refreshed Express squad looking to take the next step after last season’s improvements. The season kicks off down Highway 1 in Langley at the George Preston Rec Centre, a building the Express will visiting 4 times before October 18. The Rivermen handed the Express their only loss of the preseason, a 5-4 final from Langley last week.
Key #1 – Team Toughness
The Langley Rivermen are known for team size and physicality. Last season, the Express struggled with Langley’s size in all three zones, and the Rivermen managed to win 7 of the 8 head to head matchups. This season, the Rivermen’s blueline stands at an average height of 6’2.5″, so this Langley team fits the “big Rivermen” stereotype.
Matching the Rivermen’s toughness, finishing checks, and dominating on the boards takes away Langley’s size advantage and gives the Express the opportunity to showcase their pace and creativity and use it to their advantage.
Key #2 – Make Life Easy for Your Netminder
With Jack Watson beginning the season on the IR and Clay Stevenson taking a personal leave, 2002-born goaltender Thomas Wardle will make his BCHL regular season debut earlier than he may have expected. His preseason started by surrendering 2 goals on the first 2 shots he faced, but he settled in to defeat the Wenatchee Wild before losing 5-4 to Langley later in the week. Wardle has a bright future in this league, and can start things off with a victory if his game is simplified. Good gap control by Express defenders can Rivermen shooters to the outside, and tenacity in the slot to help clear rebounds and lose pucks will allow Wardle to settle in and give his team a chance to pick up 2 points.
Key #3 – Special Teams Success
Last season, the Express held down the league’s 9th ranked powerplay, converting at a mark of 20.2%. In the preseason, the Express scored 8 times on 22 opportunities (36.4%). Keeping that pace throughout the season is near impossible, but opening night could very well be decided with the extra man. Langley was the third most penalized team in the BCHL last season, and multiple powerplay markers tonight by the Express could be too much for the Rivermen to overcome.