|Photos by Ian Webster (Merritt Herald)|
The story line had seemed so perfect for the Centennials, who rallied behind a sold out crowd making more noise than I have heard in a Junior Hockey arena in a long time. Late game goals by fan favourite players' gives this team big time hope going in to Saturday's Game 4 - a do-or-die game for the Cents.
Sam Johnson scored his 1st playoff goal to tie the game late in the opening period on a net-front play with Daniel Nachbaur and Devin Oakes also chipping away at the puck and gaining assists. Minutes before, Riley Alferd opened the scoring for the Vees when he got a puck up and over Kero, who was solid on the night with 30 saves for Merritt.
Penticton took the lead a pair of times in the second period, with Nicolas Pierog starting things off just before the six minute mark. Paul Stoykewych would put his team back in front with a point shot less than two minutes after Jeff Wight tied the game at 2 on a one-time feed from Tyler Martin on the powerplay that beat Olivier Mantha. Scotty Patterson also picked up an assist on the goal, as Merritt took a 3-2 deficit in the intermission.
With both teams getting powerplay opportunities in the third, both also failed to convert on several chances. Dexter Rasmussen and Brandon Liefke did fans and players alike the honour of having a perfectly level field to play on, while keeping respect between the teams. The game featured five sets of coincidental penalties as well an ejection on Rhett Willcox for a blow to the head.
With four players aside, Payton Schaefer gave fans the celebration of the season with the tying goal with 2:55 remaining in regulation. Sebastien Pare and Shane Poulsen had the helpers, but then something went wrong. Just :23 seconds later, the Vees took the lead once more as Paul Stoykewych got his 2nd of the night.
Merritt had a couple of great chances in overtime, as Mantha hung tight in the Vees net and made some great saves. A rush near the midway mark of overtime had Brett Beauvais rush up the left wing before laying the puck in to the corner for Erik Benoit, who fed a wide open Brad McClure in the high slot for his 1st of the night and 5th of the series. With the win, the Vees take a 3-0 lead with Game 4 right back in Merritt on Saturday night at 7:30.
Once again, fans are encouraged to come to the game early and tune in to the Q101 pre-game show during the Tailgate Party. The Centennials have life and a chance to really take momentum heading back to Penticton for a possible Game 5 on Monday.
Merritt finished 1-for-4 on the man advantage while Penticton went 0-for-5. Payton Schaefer was 1st Star, Scotty Patterson was 2nd Star while Vees defender Paul Stoykewych was 3rd. Sebastien Pare was the much deserved Fortis BC Energy Player of the Game.