Merritt's goals came from the stick from Payton Schaefer, who played much of the game with a cage after a fight in the middle period, looking to help his team from dropping to 25-19-4-1. Scott Patterson left the game prior to the Schaefer fight, leaving the game with a pair of assists.
West Kelowna sticks in the fight for top spot as Penticton also beat Salmon Arm on Friday, as the Warriors trail the Vees by a pair of points at 30-13-3-3. Goals came from Liam Blackburn(2), Brett Mennear, Matt Anholt, Reid Simmonds and Tyson Dallman.
Merritt now quickly must turn around and pick up their socks on Saturday night as the Alberni Valley Bulldogs are in town, a team also fighting for their playoff berth. Details below.
Merritt opened the scoring very early as Scott Patterson went quick to the forecheck off the opening draw and ended up getting the puck on to the stick of captain Payton Schaefer, who wristed a quick shot past Warriors starting net minder Cody Porter just 40 seconds in to the game. West Kelowna struck back as Liam Blackburn slipped a rebound away from Devin Kero and beat the Cents netminder, who initially faced the shot from Ben Tegtmeyer who was set up by one of two NHL draft picks in the game in David Pope, the other being Cents backender Dane Birks who would leave the game after blocking a shot off the leg. The Warriors took the lead as Brett Mennear snapped a shot from the right side circle past Kero blocker side at 9:54. Nathan Craft and Kylar Hope had the helpers. Payton Schaefer tied the game on a play that had Patterson clear the puck to Jason Bird who jumped in on the forecheck as Scahefer's penalty expired. The two then flew in to the zone with Bird making a dangle to fool the goaltender in to thinking shot before a quick back hand dish to Schaefer on the left side who beat Porter for his 8th of the season at 17:02. Less than a minute later, West Kelowna restored the lead as Tyson Dallman was credited with a goal in front of Kero that had the puck poked past the Cents netminder. Reid Simmonds and Matt Anholt with the assists. The first period would expire with the Warriors up 3-2, despite just 9 shots aside.
Moving forward through the game, it just never quite seemed as though the Centennials could get to the Warriors weaknesses, as West Kelowna played a fairly sound road period in the second, which included Payton Schaefer and Reid Simmonds dropping the mitts minutes after Ryan Fraser-Lee plowed over a falling Scotty Patterson inside the offensive zone. Patterson left the game and fans were very vocal about the lack of a call. Two minutes after the fight, Blackburn made the Cents pay again to make it 4-2, as he extended home a Adam Plant shot with Seb Lloyd doing most of the offensive dirty work to earn an assist as well. Matt Anholt then flew in on a breakaway less than a minute later and beat Kero with a quick low shot to make it 5-2 with 6:20 left in the second. Not a whole lot would happen before the intermission aside from Gavin Gould getting under the skin of Taki Pantziris, taking a crosscheck and a slash, one of which caused a late period Cents powerplay. Merritt trailed 5-2 in to the break, and shots were 18-18.
The Pantziris penalty would end under 10 seconds in to the third, and under a minute in to the period Pantziris set up Reid Simmonds up the right side boards who sent a bullet of a shot past Kero to make it 6-2 Warriors. The season high 1050 fans couldn't find much to get fired up for for the rest of regulation, and the Centennials definitely improved their play and got more pucks on net, but couldn't beat a hot Warrior netminder. Merritt managed to put up 17 shots in the third, outshooting the Warriors 35-27 but falling 6-2 as the Cents look deeper heading in to Saturday's game against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
Both teams' finished at 0-for-3 on the powerplay. Devin Kero made 21 of 27 saves in loss as Cody Porter made 35 of 37 stops for the Warriors.
As Luke Pierce said on the post game show, there weren't a lot of positives for the Centennials on Friday in terms of comparing it to last Friday's outing. It was much too close to Saturday's effort in Trail, the Cents looked like an early-season team and they just have to settle in once again and get comfortable for good things to happen. It's no stretch to say this will be an extra motivated group on Saturday, as a pair of former teammates visit the NVMA.
Tee up the Bulldogs. Much like the Cents, Alberni Valley is in the middle of a battle for the final playoff spot with a division rival. The 'Dogs and Cowichan Valley have just one point between them, with the extra game for AV being the difference to date. Merritt is in the same boat, but trails Salmon Arm by a point with the 'Backs having played the extra game.
Game time on Saturday is 7:30... It's Ladies Night in Merritt!! That means all ladies get in to the game for just $5.00 no matter the age, and the first 50 ladies in the doors get a special gift from the Cents!
Tune in to the game on Q101 at 7:00 with the Norgaard Ready Mix Pregame Show.