Merritt struck three times on the powerplay and once even strength to defeat West Kelowna 4-3 in game three of their first-round playoff series on Monday.
After winning the first two games of the series on home ice game three saw an increase in animosity, yet it also turned into another nailbiter. The Centennials found the go-ahead goal midway through the third, and hung on for their first win of the series and first against West Kelowna all season.
Jeff Wight buried his own rebound after a remarkable save by Tyler Briggs for Merritt’s go-ahead goal 8:42 into the third period. Wight’s game-winner game just 44 seconds after Danny Gayle had given the Tribe the equalizer.
Regan Soquila, Derek Huisman, and Dylan Chanter also all scored for Merritt, with the Cents going 3/3 on the powerplay in the second period (and 3/9 overall).
West Kelowna got goals from Ambrose Firkus, Marcus Basara, and Danny Gayle. The Warriors were 1/4 on the powerplay, but failed to capitalize on a five-minute major early in the game. The major powerplay was called after a blow-to-the-head by Centennial Payton Shaeffer on Braxton Bilous late in the first period. Bilous would return in the second.
“This is the series we expected” Warriors Alternate Captain Mat Berry suggested afterwards. “Three games in now, the blood starts to boil a little bit” he says, “If the hate wasn’t there before for the other team, it is now.”
Still, Berry insists his team isn’t about to back down from Merritt’s relentless physical play. “That’s what they do; they compete hard and they battle,” he says, vowing “we’re going to match their work ethic and try and have a better effort tomorrow.”
The Warriors still lead the best-of-seven two games to one, with game four set for Tuesday in Merritt.
“It’s a tough one to swallow” Berry says. “But that’s the thing about Junior hockey – you get to come back tomorrow and play again.