The Chilliwack Chiefs scored the last three goals to spoil the Coquitlam Express’ first regular season home game in 593 days, defeating the hosts 5-2, Friday at the Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex.
Frankie Carogioiello put the visitors ahead to stay 5:50 into the final frame, just 1:21 after Harry Meirowitz had put the Express back on even terms, 2-2.
Carogioiello’s second goal of the night gave the Chiefs some insurance, then AJ Lacroix iced his team’s victory with 1:41 left on the clock.
It was Lacroix who opened the scoring 5:50 into the first period when a rebound squirted right to him in the slot and he ripped a shot over the outstretched glove of Coquitlam keeper Connor Mackenzie.
Ray Hamlin tied the game early in the second period with his third goal of the season, but a goal by Dawson Good 36 seconds later put Chiliwack back in front, 2-1.
Mackenzie stopped 29 of the 34 shots he faced in Coquitlam’s net, while the Express directed 27 shots at Chiefs’ goalie Grant Riley.
Coquitlam’s second loss in six days to the Chiefs put a bit of a damper on the enthusiasm of the 1,096 fans that turned out — just shy of the 1,100 capacity allowed by current public health regulations.
It was their first regular-season opportunity to see the Express in action on home ice since the team’s 2019/’20 playoff run was cut down by the COVID-19 pandemic just after the team eliminated its first-round opponent, the Langley Rivermen, in three straight games. A five-week exhibition schedule last fall was played in empty arenas and the team played its 20-game pod season last spring at the Scotiabank Barn in Burnaby, also without spectators allowed.
Still, Express owner Fayaz Manji, a Burnaby hotelier who acquired the team in Oct., 2019, had reason to be optimistic. He prowled Poirier’s mezzanine with a spring in his step as the crowd was the largest for a home opener in 10 years. Many of them were kids wearing their jerseys from Coquitlam and Port Moody minor hockey associations, as well as the Tri-City Predators female hockey association. They were taking advantage of a season-long promotion in partnership with local insurance company Sussex Insurance that allows anyone under the age of 18 free admission to games.
The Express will try to even its record to 2-2 when the team travels to the South Surrey Arena on Saturday for a game against the Surrey Eagles. Coquitlam defeated the Eagles 7-4 on Oct. 8 in the season-opener for both teams.