Jeff Wight put up a pair in his return to the Centennials lineup on Friday night, but his leadership in the middle frame was countered by a Brendan Persley tying goal in the third period and a Riley Guenther overtime winner as the Vipers slipped past the Cents 4-3 1:28 in to OT.
The game opened with three even strength goals, before the powerplay took over as Merritt finished 2-for-3 and Vernon went 1-for-6 on the man advantage. Had Vernon picked up one extra PPG, they would have pulled out of the league's worst powerplay position, while the Cents hang in the top-3 with their conversion rate of 22.8%.
Both goaltenders looked strong in the pipes, with Devin Kero making 25 saves in the loss and Austin Smith stopped 29 of 32 for his first win since September 27th.
Two skilled teams hit the ice on Friday and it became evident early on as the teams' skilled players began to find their stride, with end-to-end action having fans in to the game early. Ryan Renz was the first player to step up big offensively, as the Vipers captain went end to end and created a chance for Dexter Dancs before Liam Coughlin found the puck at the side of the net and beat Kero to get Vernon up 1-0 7:01 in to the first. The lead lived short though, as Merritt would control the pace in the moments following the goal, resulting in a tally of their own. At 7:55, Scott Patterson tipped a point shot from Shane Poulsen to match Pattersons' point totals from 12/13 in exactly half the games. Sebastien Pare chipped in with his first of three assists on the night. Matty Saharchuk got the Vipers back in the drivers seat at 11:31, as he got a pass from Dancs from behind the net and sent a wrist shot past Kero to put Vernon up 2-1. Shots in the opening period were 12-9 in favour of the Vipers.
Merritt began to play with that 'home ice' edge in the second period, beginning with an early-period shorthanded breakaway for Jeff Wight. Goaltender Smith ended up closing the legs in time as he kept Vernon in front, but a Saharchuk penalty under five minutes later put the Cents up a man, and they made no mistake then. Jeff Wight got a pass from Sebastien Pare as the Vipers tried to clear the zone, and Tyler Martin worked defensively to help Wight return to the lineup in style for his 7th of the season. The 8th of the year was next for Wight, as roughly eight minutes later he was again set up by Pare, as well as Patterson, to put the Cents in front 3-2. With shots counting up as 12-5 Merritt, it was clear which team carried momentum in to the intermission.
Early in the third period, Wight again created opportunities as he nearly converted before Wayland Williams chipped in on the forecheck, but Smith was solid in the Viper goal, with added help from shots sent wide. Brendan Persley tied the game for Vernon at the 10:46 mark as he earned a breakaway while his team was up a man, and he tied the game at 3-3 with helpers to Michael McNicholas and Josh Bryan. The powerplay was given to Vernon following a scrum in which coincidental were issued plus an extra two to the Cents. The game was headed to an extra frame split at 3, with Merritt edging Vernon 31-28 on the shot clock through regulation.
Both teams picked up a shot in the overtime, but it was Vernon that made that shot count as Dexter Dancs did all the work to set up Riley Guenther, who fired a puck from the low left point past Kero on the blocker side to give Vernon their 12th win of the season, lifting them to a 12-6-2-4 record while the Centennials fell to 14-9-1-1.
Strong efforts were turned in by Sam Johnson and Jake Clifford, who showed several different sides to their game at both ends of the rink. Johnson drew in to some key face-offs and was very strong in board battles, while Clifford wasn't afraid to carry his team by getting the puck up ice in a hurry.
It's a quick turnaround for the Cents, as the Nanaimo Clippers conclude their Interior swing with a 2 pm puck drop on Sunday at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.
Saturday has the Clippers in Penticton, so the first of two meetings this season between the clubs' could have the Cents facing a fatigued Clipper club.
While puck drop is set for 2:00, the Norgaard Ready Mix Pregame Show warms fans up for puck drop at 1:30 on Q101 - Merritt's Music Mix!
Tune in online at www.Q101.ca
Q101 and the Merritt Centennials raised $213.00 for Movember at last night's game, during a pre game tailgate party. There will be a donation box at the Cents Store on Sunday, so please make a donation small or large!
One more note:
He's a no-show. Newly acquired defence man Curtis Toneff will not be reporting to the Centennials. No word whether he will quit the game or play Junior B, but the decision definitely makes you scratch your head as the Centennials have been established as a Premier Junior A organization in the BCHL. Coach Luke Pierce expressed his thoughts during Friday's pre game show, and said he expected Curtis to show up excited and ready to compete, but he was surprised by what he said felt like a knock to the organization.