The Centennials got goals in the game from James Neil, who had a pair, as well as Tyler Martin, who scored an early third period goal to give Merritt some breathing room before the Vees struck back with a pair. Devin Kero finished with 23 of 27 saves for the Cents.
Replying on the Penticton side was Steen Cooper, Brad McClure, Jack Ramsey and Brett Beauvais as the Vees will face either Vernon or West Kelowna in the 2nd Round starting on Friday night in Penticton. Hunter Miska was solid in the Vees net making 32 of 35 saves.
It's too bad that the end of the line had to come here, a time that feels all too early. But that's just the business of hockey I guess. The players deserve great recognition for battling in the series, despite being without 3 and sometimes 4 regulars from the lineup.
The Cents opened the scoring with a hard forecheck as on the back half of a shift Zach Hartley and Adam Tracey went for one last push, getting the puck tied up along the right side boards where it came free for James Neil near the face-off dot, who wristed a shot short side top corner. Penticton struck back, though it took some time. Merritt nearly made it 2-0 with opportunities then creating a powerplay but the Vees were able to fend off pressure and goals. Steen Cooper flew up the left wing against Shane Poulsen and just slapped the puck on net mid-stride and caught Devin Kero five-hole to make it 1-1 with just 2:45 left in the first. Merritt outshot the Vees 15-5 in the period.
It didn't take long for excitement to start in the second as Neil moved in to the offensive zone with a quick shot that beat Hunter Miska, with Jeff Wight and Gavin Gould both picking up helpers as Merritt's lead wouldn't last much past the 2:33 mark. At 3:52 on the powerplay, Brad McClure got the Vees back knotted up as he skated to the high slot and took a hard shot that went right through traffic and past Kero from Shane Mccolgan. Merritt outshot Penticton 11-10 as both team exchanged equal opportunity along with a pair of man advantages each.
To start the third period, AP call up Josh Teves got some good ice time which seemed to fire up the veteran blueliners. Teves got a shot on net and had provided strong support when his line change brought out Tyler Martin, who sent a blue line shot past Miska to put Merritt in front. Adam Tracey and Gavin Gould both had great offensive passes on the play to make it 3-2 at 6:33. With the Vees looking frustrated, it also seemed as though that fact distracted the Centennials, as a late hit at centre on Shane McColgan took attention away from Jack Ramsey who fired a shot past Kero on the right wing to tie the game with 5:20 to go. A speed play had the Vees take the lead as Brett Beauvais and Brad McClure both rushed up left-and-right sides with McClure firing the puck right to the far left post where Beauvais tipped it along the ice past the sliding right foot of Kero to make it 4-3 with just 2:01 remaining in regulation. Following the settling of discussions between officials(possible goal review, but no argument against), the Centennials were assessed a bench minor misconduct and that put them shorthanded for the final 2:01. To make that call at that stage considering the circumstances was very questionable, but I am unsure what was said on the ice to compensate for the decision. The Centennials put Kero and pushed and pushed but couldn't open up the ice as the Vees took the celebration back to the South Okanagan with a 4-0 sweep of the Centennials.
Congratulations to Penticton and best of luck int he 2nd Round against the Vipers or Warriors. This could have been a completely different series had a double minor high stick not been called against the Cents in the third period in Game 2, as a win that night surely wouldn't have had the Vees taking both games in the Nicola Valley. But, as they say, does it matter? The season has ended and you have to focus on the good things that this team did for the league and for the community.
From the players to the off ice personnel, the Centennials organization should be proud of what a tight-knit group it has. The players moving on will be greatly missed as they provided some of this seasons' greatest moments, and for that I have put together a highlight reel of nearly every one of their goals (and saves!) during the 2013/14 season. There is also highlights from Game 4 coming in a seperate post.
The 20-year old graduating players include Jason Bird, Tyler Martin, Sebastien Pare, Scott Patterson, Payton Schaefer. With NCAA scholarships, the Cents will/could graduate Shane Poulsen, Dane Birks, Jeff Wight and Devin Kero.
The Centennials finish the 2013/14 season with a combined regular season and playoff record of 31-25-4-2 with a GFA of 3.12 and a GAA of 3.02.
The teams playoff leaders were Jeff Wight and Sebastien Pare, who both posted 4 points in 4 games. 5 rookies earned points in the post-season, while James Neil led the team with 3 goals.
The team will be holding a season-ending banquet with information to follow, stay tuned!
I want to send a special thanks out to everyone involved with the organization and radio station that helped to make this season so much fun. For myself, my time in this league is going to be long-lived and I am so excited to have the opportunity to have begun my BCHL career with the Merritt Centennials.
And to the parents, thank you for committing to allowing your child to continue to do what he loves. You are what a head gasket is to an engine. These kids need you, and this team appreciates your support and I hope you'll all be back in the Memorial Arena very soon!