The West Kelowna Warriors couldn’t fight their way back as they fell by a 6-3 score to the Merritt Centennials on Saturday night in BCHL action at Royal LePage Place.
The Warriors were coming off a loss a night earlier to the Silverbacks in Salmon Arm.
West Kelowna (24-24-1-1) now lead the sixth-place Silverbacks by just two points for fifth in the Interior Division, while the Centennials (19-24-1-1) are seven back.
On Saturday against Merritt, the Warriors started the game with a pair of power plays but were unable to strike on the man advantage with the Centennials opening the scoring at the 12:32 mark of the 1st period. Rylan Van Unen found a loose puck behind Warriors goaltender Cole Demers after he had made a save on Matthew Kopperud in tight and Van Unen slid the puck across the goal line for a 1-0 Centennials advantage.
The Cents took just 59 seconds to earn a 2-0 lead in the game at the 13:23 mark of the 1st period. Zach Risteau gathered a loose puck below the left-wing face-off circle and flipped a backhand shot up over the glove side shoulder of Demers to double Merritt’s lead to two goals.
West Kelowna would get one back at the 15:55 mark of the opening frame and from who else but RJ Murphy of course. Willie Reim stretched a pass to the Centennials blue line where Murphy made a nifty play to knock the puck down and came in on a breakaway and beat Centennials goaltender Jacob Berger through the five hole and his 19th goal of the season (and sixth in the last four games) made it a 2-1 score after the opening 20 minutes of play.
Zach Risteau made his presence felt once more as he struck for his second goal of the game at the 2:27 mark of the 2nd period as he collected a rebound in the left face-off circle and rifled a shot off the blocker side post and in for a 3-1 Centennials lead early in the frame.
It was more quick strike offense from the Cents as they extended their advantage to three goals on a power play. Captain Tyrell Buckley slapped a shot from the middle of the point that looked to redirect off of a Warriors defender in front of the goal and past the glove side of Demers at the 3:27 mark of the middle stanza for a 4-1 Merritt advantage.
Once again, the Warriors battled back and got the game within a pair of goals as Chase Dubois would give the Warrior faithful something to cheer about at the 5:29 mark of the 2nd frame. After Dubois just missed Ryan Steele with a pass down the left-wing side, Steele collected the puck behind the goal and centred for Dubois as the Warriors forward shot through the legs of Berger for his 17th goal of the season and a 4-2 Merritt lead.
The comeback looked to be on early into the 3rd period as at the 1:35 mark, Steele added a marker of his own to get the game within one goal. After some strong play behind the goal line, Dubois got the puck in front of the net for Steele as he lifted a backhand over Berger for his 13th goal of the season and got the score to 4-3 in favour of Merritt.
The Warriors had a pair of power play opportunities after the Steele goal, including a Dubois post, that just could not generate enough offense and the Centennials grew their lead at the 7:53 mark of the period as Bradly Cocca curled out to the high slot and let a shot go through the legs of Demers for a 5-3 Centennials advantage.
Brendan Schneider closed out the scoring just 1:04 later at the 8:57 mark as Merritt’s scoring in bunches continued with a nice move on the goal line to get free and get a shot over Demers glove hand and make the final score 6-3 in favour of the Centennials.
Cole Demers started in goal for the Warriors and made 22 saves on 27 shots for his 9th loss of the season while Jacob Berger was excellent in the game with 33 saves on 36 shots for his 12th victory of the season.
The Warriors are back on home ice for a matchup against the Surrey Eagles (24-18-2-5) in the Eagles only visit to Royal LePage Place this season on Tuesday night.
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