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Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

October 19, 2014, Merritt, BC (ISN) – A controversial buzzer beating goal at the end of the first overtime gave the Merritt Centennials a 4-3 OT win over the Victoria Grizzlies in BC Hockey League action Sunday afternoon at the Nicola Valley Arena in Merritt.

Victoria’s Ayden MacDonald looks for a lane to the net during first period action Sunday in Merritt (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The win marked a slightly disappointing end to the Grizzlies tough three game road trip that began so positively with a win in Salmon Arm Friday, but then ended with consecutive one-goal losses in Penticton Saturday and Merritt today.

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The Grizzlies PJ Conlon snaps off a shot during first period action Sunday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

While Sunday’s loss was a heart breaking one for the Grizzlies, they did escape with a point and earned three out of a possible six points on this tough Interior road trip.

“I am OK with that,” said Head Coach Brad Knight after the game. “Yes it would have been great to get the win today and go home with two out of three, but we’ll take it. Our guys are still trying to find their identity both as a team and individually and today was tough for them, having to play less than 24 hours after the close game in Penticton.”

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Victoria’s Meirs Moore would get the Grizzlies on the board with a powerplay goal in the first period Sunday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

One thing for sure about the Grizzlies identity so far this season, is that they are very quickly learning what it takes to both win, and lose, one goal hockey games. Every game they have played this year, save one, has been decided by one goal and even in that game, a 5-3 loss to Cowichan, only an empty net goal kept that from being another one goal decision.

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Victoria forward Ayden MacDonald lines up Merritt defender Jake Clifford for a bodycheck during the first period Sunday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Their identity so far is certainly one of exciting, on the edge of your seat hockey and losing the way they did in Merritt, on a controversial buzzer beater, should also help the team build some character moving forward.

The Grizzlies had to overcome adversity in the game Sunday just to get it to overtime, responding from 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 deficits to force the extra period.

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Victoria’s Matt Kennedy was denied on this close in scoring chance by Merritt goaltender Anthony Pupplo (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

In particular, Kevin Massy’s goal at 15:39 of the third, tied the game 3-3 and was big, not only because it ultimately sent the game to OT, but also made up for the fact that the Grizzlies surrendered the third Merritt goal – from Sam Johnson – just 13 seconds after Garret Forster’s powerplay goal at 12:52 of the third had tied the game 2-2 at that point.

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One of many mad scrambles in front of the Merritt net as goaltender Anthony Pupplo and defender Josh Teves (24) deny Brett Gruber a scoring chance (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The Centennials outplayed the Grizzlies for many parts of the game and jumped out to a 1-0 first period lead on a goal from Rhett Wilcox. The Grizzlies would respond late in the period when a Meirs Moore shot from the point found its way past Cents goalie Anthony Pupplo on the powerplay and the teams went to the first break tied 1-1.

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Merritt goaltender Anthony Pupplo (1) and defender Matt Foley (2) prepare to face a shot during action against Victoria on Sunday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

After a scoreless second period, kept that way by some sensational saves by Grizzlies goaltender Michael Stiliadis, Merritt’s Gavin Gould would put the Cents up 2-1 at 9:14 of the third, before Forster, for the Grizzlies, and Johnson, for the Cents scored their goals.

In the overtime period, both sides had their chances, but with 23 seconds remaining, the Grizzlies Zachary Dixon took a hooking penalty to put the Cents on the powerplay. That penalty proved fatal for the Grizzlies, as a shot from the point was tipped by Merritt’s Diego Cuglietta and found its way past Stiliadis and into the net with 0:00s on the clock.

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Victoria forward Matt Kennedy (19) looks to make a pass while Merritt defenders Matt Foley (2) and Josh Teves (24) look on (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The referee, much to the dismay of the disbelieving Grizzlies, who felt the horn had sounded prior to the puck entering the net, ruled it a good goal, giving Merritt the 4-3 win.

That call so incensed Grizzlies Head Coach Brad Knight that he refused to have his team leave the ice until the referee came to speak with him. When he did, he let the ref have it verbally and then stormed off the bench and out the side door of the arena which was just behind the team benches. To many in the crowd, this made it appear that Knight was chasing down the referees, since the refs also had to head to their change room which was in the same area.

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Merritt’s Daniel Nachbaur (14 skates away from the pressure of the Grizzlies Ayden MacDonald (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN) 

That was not the end of things however, as shortly after the game, a Merritt fan decided to confront Head Coach Knight outside the arena well after the game. While words were said on both sides, cooler heads prevailed and the angry Merritt fan was escorted away by another person before any more tempers flared.

With the overtime loss, the Grizzlies record falls to 5-4-0-2 and they fall into a tie with Alberni for second in the Coastal Division, now six points behind Nanaimo. The Centennials improve to 7-4 and they are second in the Interior Division, six points behind first place Penticton.

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Victoria’s Matt Kennedy (19) had a glorious attempt to win the game with this shorthanded breakaway chance with less than 2 minutes to play, but was denied by Merrit goaltender Anthony Pupplo (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Speaking of Nanaimo, they will be the Grizzlies next opponent and head to The Q Centre on Wednesday to do battle with the Grizzlies. Game time is 7:00 pm.

Game Notes: After giving way to Sean Cleary Friday and Saturday, Grizzlies goalie Stiliadis got the start and he was spectacular stoping 30 of 34 shots and earning second star honours. Final shots were 34-30 for Merritt. The Grizzlies were 3 for 4 on the powerplay, while Merritt was 1 for 8. In addition to their 10th one-goal game of the season, the 4-3 score was the Grizzlies 6th such score of the season.