Story by Wayne Moore
March 22, 2013, West Kelowna, BC (ISN) – The West Kelowna Warriors saved their best performance of the playoffs to date for when they needed it most.
Captain Max French scored three times and the Warriors got a solid effort up and down the line-up Thursday in a convincing 7-4 victory over the visiting Merritt Centennials.
With the victory, the Warriors win the best-of-seven Interior Division semi-final 4-1.
Ambrose Firkus, Daniel Gayle, Reid Simmonds and Brennan Clark also scored for the Warriors who will now meet the Penticton Vees in the Interior final.
“I thought our game was pretty good. We were playing a very good team over there and they came hard,” says Warriors head coach Rylan Ferster.
“I thought we handled it and we got some timely goals and some lucky goals.”
French made it 1-0 with a pretty dangle before going upstairs with his first of the night. The Centennials, facing elimination, tied it just 18 seconds later.
Goals from Firkus (his team-leading fourth of the series), Simmonds, and French made it 4-1 early in the second. At that point, it looked as if the outcome was sealed.
However, following a timeout, the Centennials began pushing back.
Bennett Huber cut into the lead, scoring on a delayed penalty. Two minutes later, Regan Soquila beat Tyler Briggs to bring Merritt to within a goal.
A string of penalties to the Centennials cut their momentum, but with one period left, the outcome remained in doubt.
“When they came back to 4-3 we could easily have started to panic but our bench didn’t panic and that’s a credit to our leadership group for not letting that happen” says Ferster.
The game turned early in the third period when Briggs made a spectacular stop on Scott Patterson.
The Merritt forward grabbed a loose puck, moved to the front of the net, and had a wide open goal only to have Briggs somehow come across and get his glove on what looked like the equalizer.
Seconds later, French completed his hat trick when a weak wrist shot from off the right circle somehow found its way past Tyler Steel.
Gayle and Clark salted it away later in the period before Merritt’s Derek Huisman scored a late goal to make the final score a little more respectable.
Ferster agreed everybody stepped up Thursday to make sure there would be no return trip to Merritt.
“In a deciding or clinching game like this it’s important your leaders step up and he (French) was good, I thought Hawk (Shawn Hochhausen) was good, I thought Josh Monk was outstanding and our goalie was good,” says Ferster.
“We talked about it before the series – if you’re going to have success in the playoffs it takes three things, good health, good luck and good goaltending. You have to have two of those every night to have an opportunity and I thought in this series we had two or three of those
Firkus, who missed several weeks with a broken wrist, led the Warriors with four goals in the series.
He says the team didn’t want to make the trip back to Merritt for game six. “That barn is a little different than every other one. It’s quite a war – it’s quite a battle when you go in there that’s for sure.” Firkus agreed the Warriors did a good job of taking the play to the Centennials for much of the night.
“They kind of run at you quite a bit so if you go on your heels they keep doing it and it doesn’t end up good for us,” says Firkus. “Tonight we kind of dictated the play more than we had in the past.”
The win means the Warriors have eight days in which to rest, get healthy, and come up with a winning game plan before taking on the Vees in the division final.
That series begins a week Friday in Penticton.
“We certainly have some bumps and bruises as you get in a playoff series and playing in that little rink over there you get maybe a couple more so it will certainly be nice to get a little rest,” says Ferster.
The rest also will give injured defencemen Braxton Bilous and Ben Tegtmeyer and forwards David Pope and Mitch Nardi an opportunity to get closer to full health.
Check out The General’s Report for up to date Warriors talk and info.