Opinion: An evening with the Miramichi Rivermen and Moncton Flyers

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bryanwillett

On Jan. 31, I noticed I had a golden opportunity to do something a little different on a Friday night.

There was no Acadie-Bathurst Titan game being played, there was nothing worth watching on TV, and there wasn’t anything playing at the movie theatre that I either had not already seen or was interested in seeing. Then I remembered a message I had received from the mother of one of the Titan’s 2013 Draft picks, Riley Scott, suggesting that if I had the time I should take in one of her son’s Major Midget Hockey League games.

It was quickly decided that I’d take in the Miramichi Rivermen game against the Moncton Flyers. This was sure to be a great contest as both teams were tied for second place in the standings, just three points behind the first place Saint John Vitos.

With the game in near-by Miramichi, N.B. (a 75 km drive) I decided to jump in the car, grab a small bite to eat that was suitable for driving conditions (popcorn chicken from KFC) and hit the road.

After 40 minutes, I pulled into the Lord Beaverbrook Arena on the Chatham side of the Miramichi River and proceeded inside. I hadn’t been in this building since I graduated from the Business Administration program at the New Brunswick Community College in 2011. Let’s just say it was a lot warmer on that day in June.

With the building set up for hockey, I was instantly transported back to the days of my youth when I would foolishly try to skate at the old Bathurst Arena located downtown. I say foolishly because I was never that good of a skater. I didn’t know how to stop properly and took a couple of thousand spills just trying. There was also a problem of balance and not being able to stay in a pair of skates too long before out-growing them.

I quickly found Riley’s mother and settled in as the warm-ups were coming to an end. Riley has been playing this season with the Rivermen and has done fairly well for himself. In 24 games, he has an even 13 goals and 13 assists to go with 95 penalty minutes. Due to being a local player, he’s been called upon to suit up for the Titan on four occasions.

In addition to Riley’s mother and some family members being in attendance, Titan Public Address Announcer Luc Foulem was in attendance as his son Zach is on the team. Zach is currently 15-years old and in his first season with the Rivermen. He’s also played 24 games this season and has five goals and three assists while having incurred 12 penalty minutes. Two of his five goals have come with the man advantage.

In addition to this, there were two other players I had a keen interest in keeping my eye on from either Twitter interactions or call-ups to the Titan. The first was defenceman Pierre-Luc Lurette, who in 29 games has two power play goals and 13 assists with 26 penalty minutes. The second was goaltender Daniel Vautour who has served as an emergency back-up for the Titan on a couple of occasions this season. Daniel has seen 18 appearances this season going 11-6 with a 2.96 goals against average, a 0.921 save percentage and one shutout while allowing 51 goals on 643 shots.

The first period didn’t see anything happen. No goals or penalties on either side. Both teams moved the puck well, but Moncton had the edge in possession and shots by a 9-5 margin.

During the first intermission, I ventured to the concession stand on the advice of Riley’s mother to try a plate of fries which she assured me were some of the best in terms of arena food one could find. I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

As the second period got underway, the Rivermen would quickly find themselves on their lone power play of the game when Brayden Tingley was called for high sticking. The Rivermen weren’t able to get anything on the man advantage as Francis Thibault would be called for tripping just 31 seconds later. With 3:40 gone in the second, the Rivermen would get called for having too many players on the ice, a call that confused everyone in the stands. This would prove costly as the Flyers would open the scoring 34 seconds later when Patrick Landry scored his seventh of the season with Chris Goguen and Kyle Ward picking up the assists.

It wouldn’t take long for the Rivermen to tie things up as Tristan Young netted his eighth goal of the year at the 7:21 mark with Yan Plourde and Lurette picking up the assists. Miramichi would add a second goal before the end of the period when Riley took the puck over the attacking blue line and left the puck in open ice for Plourde to blast at Flyers’ goaltender Julian Galloway. Galloway got most of the shot, but the puck managed to trickle through the five-hole giving Plourde his 13th goal of the year. Riley was credited with the assist with 4:22 to go in the period. Despite the one-goal lead heading into the intermission, Moncton out-shot Miramichi in the second period 17-9. It remained that way thanks to some outstanding saves by Vautour.

One thing that occurred during the second period was Colby Ward of the Flyers leaving the ice in considerable pain in his upper body – more specifically the rib cage area. If he somehow lays eyes on this, I hope he’s doing better and did not suffer any serious injuries.

During the second intermission, I once again ventured to the concession stand to grab something to drink. While there, I conversed with an older gentleman who was there taking pictures of the game. We discussed a number of topics and was genuinely pleased to learn that former Titan Zach O’Brien was currently playing in the American Hockey League with the Los Angeles Kings’ affiliate Manchester Monarchs. Our conversation ran long and I ended up missing the first minute of the third period. Thankfully, I didn’t miss anything significant.

The Rivermen would take a two-goal lead early in the third when Young scored his second of the game and ninth of the season just 3:09 into the final frame with Alex Beaulieu and Lurette picking up the assists. Just 14 seconds later, however, the Flyers would creep back to within one goal as Kyle Ward scored his eighth of the year with Alexandre Jacob and Jared Ostroski picking up the assists. The Flyers would finally manage to tie the game back up with 12:06 to go in the third when Landry scored his eighth goal of the season and second of the game thanks to assists from Liam Conrad and Brayden Tingley.

As the third period was coming to a close, overtime seemed likely until Plourde scored a beautiful back-door wraparound goal for his 14th of the year and second of the game at the 16:30 mark with Lurette picking up his third assist of the game to give the Rivermen a 4-3 lead. The lead would be short-lived after the Flyers pulled their goaltender and used the advantage of an extra attacker to tie things up with just 58 seconds remaining in regulation thanks to Jacob’s 11th of the year. Samuel MacDonald and Jarrett Crossman picked up the assists. With the teams tied 4-4 at the end of regulation, we were headed to overtime! Shots on goal in the third period were 18-9 in favour of the Flyers.

Overtime solved nothing despite the Flyers out-shooting the Rivermen 5-1 in the extra five minutes of play. This would give the Flyers a 49-24 edge in shots overall through 65 minutes.

The shootout would end up going 10 rounds with both goaltenders – Vautour especially – locked on and focused. It would take Ryan Penny’s trickler through Galloway’s legs to finally get the Rivermen on the board, leaving it up to Alexandre Bernier to keep the Flyers in the game. I’ll leave you watch the video I took of the shootout to see exactly what happened.

One thing I loved at the end of the game was the handshake line. Nothing makes me happier than seeing class and sportsmanship between two teams that went all-out for the victory. Whether in victory or defeat, showing respect to your opponent should always be paramount.

If I had to make a Three Stars of the Game selection, I’d have to give the third star to Patrick Landry of the Flyers for his two-goal performance. The second star goes to Daniel Vautour who stopped 45 of the 49 shots he faced and then all ten shooters he faced in the shootout to pick up his 11th win of the year. The first star goes to Yan Plourde for his two goal, one assist performance including that beautiful back-door wraparound to give the Rivermen a 4-3 lead late in the third period.

The victory last night puts the Rivermen solely in second place in the six-team league, but thanks to a victory last night by the Saint John Vitos, the Rivermen are still three points behind first place. There are just five games left in the season and the Rivermen are back in action tonight once again at the Lord Beaverbrook Arena as they take on the Fredericton Canadiens at 7:30 p.m. Best of luck to both teams.

Despite two frozen feet and two frozen hands, I enjoyed myself immensely. It was a rare occasion where I was able to leave the iPad at home and put my entire focus into enjoying a game.

Thank you to those I was sitting with and to the arena staff at the Lord Beaverbrook Arena for making me feel welcome, and thank you to the Miramichi Rivermen and Moncton Flyers for putting on a great game between two rivals so close together in the standings. I would certainly suggest that more people check out a game if you’re able to. Admission was just $5 and I got my money’s worth ten-fold.

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