(ISN) – With seven days between games, the Merritt Centennials wanted to engage the Penticton Vees physically early on in Game 1 Tuesday night to make sure they got themselves into the game right away. While they executed the plan, they actually fired up their opponents at the same time and the Vees came away with a 5-0 win.


“They dumped the puck down and hammered us a couple times and our guys knew they were going to get smacked so they had their feet going right off the hop,” noted Vees assistant coach Michael Hengen.

Mario Lucia then capitalized on an early power-play chance with what proved to be the winning goal. He’d go on to score a hat trick. Not surprising for the league’s top goal-scorer (along with teammate Bryce Gervais) during the regular season but contributions from depth players has been key since Connor Reilly was pronounced done for the year with a knee injury.

“There’s been lots of guys (picking up the slack),” said Hengen. “Cody DePourcq is playing his best hockey of the year which shows his character. (Wade) Murphy and Gervais, our later additions (through trades), the reason we got those guys is because they play both ways.”

Also, with regular season number-one goalie Michael Garteig being sidelined with injury at the moment, Chad Katunar has been thrust into a starring role and is flourishing, having posted back-to-back shutouts. It’s not surprising given what the Vees staff saw from him last year in midget hockey.

“(Head coach) Fred (Harbinson) watched Chad in a big time pressure situation in the Mac’s tournament last year,” said Hengen. “He saw Chad steal two games against the top midget teams in the nation and then he came to our camp and battled his butt off. He’s got the trust of his teammates… and he’s confident.”