With the loss, Merritt now sits tied with West Kelowna for the final playoff spot in the Interior with 37 points, which comes with a record of 17-14-2-1. The Warriors hold a similar mark, at 17-11-1-2.
Devin Kero made 25 of 27 saves, including 12 in the 2nd period, many of which came on an extended Kelowna powerplay.
For the Warriors, Andy Desautels picked up his first BCHL shutout with 30 saves, while Jordan Masters and Matt Anholt provided singles. Seb Lloyd earned an assist to get his 6th point of the season against Merritt.
West Kelowna finished 1-for-5 on the man advantage, while the Cents only received a single opportunity in the 3rd period.
The Centennials controlled the majority of the play in the opening period, forcing West Kelowna to resort to icing the puck on several occasions. Diego Cuglietta created the first good scoring chance but he was unable to get the puck to go through the legs of Andy Desautels as he spun for the shot. Rhett Willcox then made a smart play to pass the pack to the centre point where Zach Hartley came on with fresh legs and looked to blast a shot, but it was deflected off a Warrior to the corner. Final shots in the period rang up as 12-6 Merritt, but the game was scoreless and the Warrior faithful would have to hold tight to those teddy bears for a bit longer.
Early in the period off a quick breakout from the Warriors, Jordan Masters was able to go in on a 2-on-1 with Seb Lloyd against Dane Birks. Masters made a crafty pass to Lloyd, but Birks and Devin Kero were both left helpless as the return went to Masters and he beat Kero who was sliding across the other direction. The delay would run 3 or 4 minutes as players and volunteers collected teddy bears, and immediately following the ensuring face-off Sebastien Pare would get ejected as he hit Ben Tegtmayer with an apparent hit to the head, that left Tegtmayer lying on the ice until Pare was ejected. Adam Osczevski aided him teammate by jumping in to a fight a raring and ready Pare, who controlled the fight. Luke Pierce questioned the call and the actions of the player injured on the ice, earning his ejection and an extra two minute bench minor. West Kelowna went on to the powerplay, and had lots of time and space to set up although the Cents seem to be keen to their game plan and didn't allow WK to have any glorious chances. That's not completely true as Kero did make a pair of cross-crease saves he had no business making, including one stop on Jordan Masters who got a pass along the goal line from Seb Lloyd. During the ensuing sequence, Matt Anholt would beat Kero in front with some strong traffic in front of the Cents' goal, as Carl Hesler and Liam Blackburn did most of the work to get assists. Merritt was outshot 14-4 in the period, with mostly sloppy and chippy play happening outside of the powerplay minutes. You have to commend the Cents for keeping their cool when he game could have easily been evident of frustration. Down 2-0 in to the break, the game was anything but over. Gavin Gould did beat Desautels, who was out of position before Devin Oakes pushed him and almost helped the goaltender get in to a better save position, but the goal was waved off the Oakes got a penalty for Goaltender Interference.
Early in the 3rd, Gavin Gould showed why he picked up 3rd Star honours with a strong forecheck which also had Dane Birks hop in to the rush. Gould then got back to cover on D as the Warriors flew up ice and the Centennials youngster was able to force his man wide and off the puck, before cutting back to the forecheck and leading a strong Cents rush the other direction. Jeff Wight and Payton Schaefer both rose their level of energy in the period, giving the Cents some chances but neither team was really able to settle things down and the Centennials, despite controlling the majority of the play, couldn't buy a goal on Desautels. With a shot margin of 14-7 Merritt in the 3rd, Desautels finished the game with 30 saves as the Warriors cruised to a 2-0 win.
The Cents have some time to tweak some things leading up to the January 31st matchup in Merritt, as the Warriors finally make their first visit to the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. Once again, the Centennials got a strong performance from their rookies against the Warriors, as Adam Tracey, Rhett Willcox, Zach Hartley and Gavin Gould led the way up front. Devin Oakes was also a significant piece of the game once again, as he seems to find his stride in this league more and more every game. On the point, Jake Clifford and Malik Kaila showed strong performances, with both seeing increased ice time for their efforts.
It's a quick turnaround for the Centennials, with a day off to rest before hosting the Salmon Arm SilverBacks on Sunday afternoon at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.
Last time the teams met in Merritt, goals came often in a 5-5 draw. The most recent game, October 27th in Salmon Arm, resulted in a 5-2 Salmon Arm win.
Puck drop is 2 PM, and it's Minor Hockey Night with all fans encouraged to wear their minor hockey jerseys for a chance to be entered in to raffle draws.