With 16 shots in the middle frame, Merritt was able to just get by Langley on the shot clock, edging them 41-37, as Devin Kero made 35 saves, including 15+ after being injured after being taken to the ice by a Langley player. Brock Crossthwaite made 38 saves at the other end, after watching from the bench on Friday night.
With the win, the Centennials jump in to a share of top spot in the British Columbia Hockey League, with a record of 14-9-1-0. Despite picking up just 1 of 4 points, the Rivermen are tied with Merritt as well as the Powell River Kings for 1st in the standings.
Merritt hosts Vernon on Friday night, as students of Nicola Valley Institute of Technology are invited to bring their friends and families!
Unlike the Friday game, there wasn't a goal in the opening 62 seconds and that allowed the game to start with much better pace although it was the Centennials who went shorthanded first off a Devin Oakes tripping minor. Upon expiration of the penalty, Oakes was sprung in along but was stopped by Crossthwaite, but momentum carried over just under two minutes later, as Gavin Gould flew up the left wing on a pass from Diego Cuglietta. Gould found a seem to thread the puck to James Neil, who somehow got by everyone and got the puck over the goaltender in tight, marking Neil's 6th goal of the season which puts him one back of last season's totals. Merritt was outshot 10-7 in the period, as either team limited significant chances for the most part.
Hoping to build on the lead, the Centennials weren't able to open the game up too much in the middle frame but they found a much better shot selection, with shots coming from a variety of angles and locations. Merritt put up 3 or 4 good scoring chances in the period that only developed because of responsible, creative plays. Langley was, for the most part, quieter in the period, although they did a good job defensively in keeping the Centennials shots to outside angles. Some physical play did pick up, as Nathan Craft earned himself a hit-to-the-head misconduct, while Rhett Willcox delivered a punishing check to Austin Azurdia near centre ice. The game remained 1-0 Centennials after 40, as shots at the point stood at 23-18 Merritt.
It has seemed to be a slight trend as of late for goals to come in particular periods, and tonight it was the third period. Mitch McLain began the three-goal period as he tied the game up by adding some extra heat to a Chris Forney shot, which beat Kero to get the game tied at 2:52 on the power play. Just under 6 minutes later, the Rivermen took the lead as Marcus Vela scored his 2nd goal in as many nights, on a setup from Azurdia. After the tying goal, it seemed to take some of the life from the Centennials and then the 2-1 goal took even more from the team, but they would bounce back. The biggest point of turnaround came when goaltender Kero was knocked to the ice by a Rivermen player, and somehow the Centennials ended up shorthanded. Perhaps it was Kero fighting through the injury that inspired them, perhaps it was wanting vengeance after the one-way call; but either way the Centennials tied it up late in the game as Diego Cuglietta and Tyler Martin read a play perfectly to get Martin along the right wing boards as Cuglietta flew to the slot where he fired the puck past Crossthwaite. The tables turned at that point and it seemed the momentum Merritt initially had lost, had been taken right back. Final shots in regulation were 37-34 Centennials, as we headed to OT with Shane Poulsen and Liam McDermott in the penalty box to start the overtime.
The first overtime had both teams playing fairly cautious, but what shocked me was that Langley went with a pair of defenders while Merritt went with a pair of forwards. It didn't work out right away, but come the 3-on-3 overtime, the ice would open up. Diego Cuglietta and Gavin Gould hurried the puck in to the zone, and while the puck was thrown on goal by Gould, Austin Azurdia threw the puck right back out to the slot for #16, who buried his 8th of the season to earn the extra point for his hockey club.
Cuglietta and Gould were two players the Centennials may not have won without on Saturday, as they both stepped up at key times in different ways. Gould really increased his physical presence and it paid off huge with the winner. Luke Santerno, Austin Campeau and Kristian Stead were with the Centennials on the trip, with Stead nearly getting a chance to get between the pipes had Kero not shaken off the pain. Santerno was once again strong and fast, while Campeau played like a veteran blue liner after getting the first couple shifts under his belt.
With a split of first spot in the league, the Centennials will be looking for their 5th consecutive win on Friday night when Graham Turnbull and the Vernon Vipers travel to the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.
Gametime is 7:30, and it's NVIT Night meaning it should be a packed house! Tune in at 7:00 on Q101 that evening as we get the pre game show going.