COQUITLAM - Home ice has been a tough row to hoe for the Coquitlam Express.
Sunday's gritty 3-1 victory over the Langley Rivermen could go a long way to change that.
The Express rebounded after a listless 4-1 loss on Friday to the Chilliwack Chiefs at the Poirier Sports Centre with some much-needed energy.
Coquitlam came out Sunday with a solid game plan and a little desperation despite being heavily shorthanded: top-six forwards Alexander Kerfoot, Brandon Morley and Zach Pryzbek were headed to Calgary for the Canada West tryout camp, while key defenders Marc Biega (injured) and Beau Orser (suspended) were also out of the lineup.
"We really wanted to bounce back after Friday's loss," recalled forward Will Cook. "We knew it was important to come out hard and have a good start - we could have fell to last place if Langley beat us."
John Siemer got Coquitlam on the scoresheet first, cashing in an unassisted goal midway through the opening period. In the second frame, Justin Georgeson netted his fifth of the season, and what would prove to be his second game-winning goal.
Early in the third, Cook powered to the net and let fly a shot that Langley netminder James Barr stopped. But Express captain Mitch Nardi banged home the rebound to make it 3-0.
Mario Puskarich broke Cole Huggins' shutout with nine minutes left to play.
"Our forecheck played a big part," noted head coach Jon Calvano. "What we did [better] was execute on our opportunities_ Basically, we have to improve our consistency."
Two days earlier, Coquitlam was out-classed 4-1 by Chilliwack in a contest where the visitors held a 31-14 advantage in shots after 40 minutes.
Austin Plevy tallied twice for the visitors, while Mitch Gillam turned aside 32 shots. The Chiefs connected on both the powerplay and shorthanded, as the home team struggled to create good scoring chances.
Coquitlam's lone goal came early in the third, when Philip Zielonka scored his first junior A goal.
"We've struggled at home lately, so it was nice to see us put that game behind us," noted Cook, 18. "While we didn't score a lot (Sunday) we got the job done."
It was especially well-timed, coming without three of their top forwards.
Kerfoot and Morley are aiming to represent Canada West for a second straight year - the two were linemates and major contributors to last year's victory at the Canada Junior A Challenge - while Pryzbek, a native of Ontario, is looking to make the team as a rookie.
Cook, who is from Port Stanley, Ont., has made a slow, if steady, adjustment to the BC Hockey League after playing with Elmira of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) last season. In 2011 he was selected, along with Express defenceman Dillon Walker, to play in the GOJHL prospect game, and was named his team's MVP.
More of an offensive player growing up, the six-foot-one winger is eager to create waves on the ice against the opposition. He's also eager to chip in more offensively, too.
"To be honest, I didn't know what to expect here. It definitely took a couple of games to adjust, but I've been getting more comfortable with the role, my teammates and the style of play," said Cook. "I'm interested in doing anything it takes to win and to help my team be successful."
In 15 games so far, he's contributed two goals and three assists - numbers that don't jive with his boisterous, powerskating style. The main difference in the game here is about timing and quickness, he said.
"I'm getting more chances and showing what I can do, and it reflects in my ice time," he said. "You have less time, you have to make quicker decisions and be that much smarter with the puck."
Calvano is pleased with the Port Stanley, Ont. native's transition, and believes the offence will come.
"He's adjusted pretty well, we kind of figured it would take 15 games to get use to the B.C. game," said Calvano. "Cook has had a lot of opportunities, he's hitting the post and things are getting closer. He's been working hard along the wall and it's just a matter of time."
Getting just their third home ice win under their belts came at a good time. Now the squad - still minus five key players - heads out for a three-games-in-three-days road trip that starts Friday in Powell River, heads to Port Alberni on Saturday, and wraps up in Cowichan on Sunday. The Express are 4-0-1 away from home and have played with more confidence over the first seven weeks of the season.
"It's always fun to get away and just be together as a team," noted Cook. "It's kind of like a vacation in one sense - you're away from home, you've got new surroundings_ You bring a different mindset to the rink."
The next home test for the Express isn't until Nov. 9, when Chilliwack returns to Coquitlam.