(ISN) – After waiting seven days to face the Penticton Vees, there weren’t a lot of positives for the Merritt Centennials after Game 1. Vees rookie Mario Lucia had his first playoff hat trick and goaltender Chad Katunar had his second shutout of the postseason to beat Merritt 5-0.
But the Cents regrouped and hit back in Game 2, beating Penticton 4-3 and tying the Interior Conference Finals 1-1. Centennials forward and team captain Evan Stack said the team was more focused the second time around.
“Mainly our mindset wasn’t right in Game 1. I don’t know if it was the time off but we just didn’t come out ready,” Stack said. “In Game 2 we were more relentless to the puck, went hard to the body and stuck with our gameplan.”
After a solid first period, the Cents exploded in the second. Stack registered a goal and an assist in a four-goal period for the Cents. Along with improving its offence, Merritt also owes its victory to the solid play of backup goaltender Tyler Steel. Steel subbed in for Lino Chimienti to play 26 minutes in Game 1 and got the start in Game 2, earning 1st Star honours by going 60 minutes and stopping 29 of 32 shots.
“Steel played really well when he got a full game,” Stack said. “He made all the big saves we needed down the stretch. He did a great job.”
After taking Game 2 in Penticton the Centennials get to face the Vees on home ice Friday night. With a smaller rink at Nicola Valley Arena, Stack expects the Vees to be more aggressive on offence, but he believes the advantage still goes to the home team.
“I think coming into our barn it’s a lot smaller; there’s nowhere to hide,” he said. “We can finish every check and takeaway space.”
Friday and Saturday’s games in Merritt are slated for 7:30 p.m. start times.