It was the fifth time a team struck 5 on the scoreboard in the season series, and with their 2nd straight win over Salmon Arm, Merritt improves to 19-14-2-1 heading in to the holidays which is just a single point back of the Silverbacks.
Rhett Willcox(4th) rounded out the scoring in the 3rd period, while Zach Hartley(6th), Jeff Wight(15th), Gavin Gould(9th) and Diego Cuglietta(9th) also scored, with Cuglietta, Hartley and Wight also collecting assists. Scott Patterson and Adam Tracey both earned a pair of assists, while Devin Kero was fantastic in goal with 21 saves on 23 shots.
With the loss, the Silverbacks fall to 18-12-1-5 and lead the Cents and West Kelowna by a single point in the 3rd spot in the Interior Division. Landon Smith scored his BCHL leading 31st and 32nd goals of the season, while Adam Clark was relieved by Angus Redmond midway through the game, as the two combined for 34 saves.
The Centennials are now in to a nearly two week break, before returning to the ice on January 3rd when the Penticton Vees are in Merritt, a night before returning to Salmon Arm.
A pair of Centennials alumni from last season attended the game, as Tyler Steel also joined us in the broadcast booth and Reece Willcox was able to witness his brother score a big goal to bury Salmon Arm. It wouldn't take long for the Centennials to strike as Zach Hartley picked up a puck in the low slot just 2:57 in and beat Adam Clark to make it 1-0 Merritt. Hartley's 6th of the season got helpers from Adam Tracey and Tyler Martin. Michael Roberts created the best chances for Salmon Arm early in the game, but on his best was stopped by Devin Kero. At 17:35, Landon Smith had his shot blocked by Dane Birks, and it deflected back to his stick where he was able to flick it over top of the Cents goaltender to tie the game. No assists on Smith's 31st of the season. :16 seconds after that, Jeff Wight stunned(and joyed) the crowd as he got a pass from Diego Cuglietta up the left wing and fired a high snap shot in to the top corner from about 6 feet inside the blue line. Both teams had their chances on the powerplay, with Smith's goal coming late in a Cents penalty. Each of Merritt's goals came 5-on-5, and the Cents went to the break up 2-1 on the board and 16-8 in shots.
Gavin Gould had gone 11 straight games without a goal, and the rookie fan-favorite got himself back involved in the offence with a snipe from the right circle at 5:04 of the 2nd. His bullet wrist shot was his 9th of the season, and Daniel Nachbaur earned a helper with his Dad in attendance, also Shane Poulsen had an assist. Up by two, you could sense Salmon Arm was beginning to feel frustrated with chippy play and a few penalties assessed. A short bench certainly didn't help Salmon Arm, as they also began to increase ice time of the AP's(Logan Mostat and Aiden Silzer-Hooker) in the lineup. Diego Cuglietta made it 4-1 at 13:37 with a unique goal, he got a pass from Scott Patterson on a 2-on-1, then stopped mid-right circle, and waited and looked for the perfectly placed shot which he nailed for his 9th of the year. Merritt closed the period out with a penalty but led 4-1 to the dressing room, while leading 30-15 on the shot clock.
The 3rd period wasn't quite as exciting as the 1st and 2nd, as you could tell the Centennials wanted to hold the lead and the Silverbacks wanted to give different players an opportunity to step up. Another bright spot was referee Devin Samaddar, who in my eyes kept the game respectful and avoided any unnecessary ejections with his composure and police-man ability. Rhett Willcox would score a beauty at 14:04 as he got the puck in the left circle and tried to shoot but was interfered by BCHL scoring leader Landon Smith. Willcox then did a spin move to shed away from Smith and then he put home his 4th of the season from Zach Hartley and Adam Tracey. The WHT line was very, very good for the Cents in this game. Landon Smith would eventually add another as he scored from the corner with a top shelf shot, that came from a very quick and hard release. Merritt held on in the dying minutes for a 5-2 win, which sends them in to the Christmas break with wins in 3 of their past 4. Merritt outshot SA in the game by a margin of 39-23.
As I just mentioned, Zach Hartley, Adam Tracey and Rhett Willcox were great for Merritt. I was also impressed with Wayland Williams, who kept his game very smart throughout the game while still jumping in the rush when opportunity came up. Gavin Gould always seems to play big in big games, and that was no different on Friday night, and the same can be said for Payton Schaefer, who was a wrecking ball all evening. Several others had strong games, including 'tender Devin Kero, who had a lot of high shots to stay square to.
After the presents are unwrapped and the New Year begins, the Centennials will return to the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena for their first game of 2014. That game will take place January 3rd, when the Penticton Vees are in town to face the Centennials at 7:30.
The night following, Saturday January 4th, there is a fan bus going to Salmon Arm for just $40.00! Come cheer on the Cents on the road, call Sach for your tickets at 250-378-3604.
Merry Christmas to all the fans and players, and everyone else who supports myself and the BCHL! I hope to see everyone in the New Year, have a safe and happy holiday.
Thanks to Bennett Huber for a great intermission interview, and also to Tyler Steel for joining the broadcast in the 2nd intermission. Over the next couple weeks, I'll get all of the interviews up online so everyone can enjoy the chats I've had with the guys to date this season. See you on the flip side!