MERRITT, BC –It took them six tries but the Merritt Centennials finally got the better of the Penticton Vees Friday night, in a 3-2 win at Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.
Zach Risteau scored a pair of power-play goals, as the Cents’ built up a 3-0 lead, before hanging on in the final five-minutes of regulation, to snap a five-game losing streak against Penticton. Zach Court scored the other Cents’ goal and Tyler Ward chipped in with three assists, as they bumped a two-game losing skid with the win.
Merritt got a strong performance in goal from 19-year-old Jacob Berger who stopped 34 of 36 shots, including 18 of 20 in the third period, as he was named the third star.
Owen Sillinger and Taylor Sanheim scored goals inside the final five-minutes of the third period to give the Vees some late life, but they ultimately ran out of time. Mat Robson took the loss, stopping 21 of 24 shots before being replaced early in the third period by Nolan Hildebrand.
It was an eventful first period, as Chris Klack had a chance to open the scoring half a minute into the game but mishandled the puck with an open net in front of him. Jamie Armstrong came close too, as he fired a wrist-shot off the cross-bar from the right-wing.
The Centennials thought they had the go ahead goal on their first power-play of the game back half of the first period but it was waved off; the puck had slid underneath the side of the net, after it momentarily lifted up on the ice.
Merritt eventually broke the scoreless tie with just over a minute left in the first period. The Vees turned the puck over behind their net and Tyler Ward passed out front to Court, who wired a wrist-shot over Robson’s glove at 18:43.
The Cents’ nursed the 1-0 lead into the back half of second period before the Vees ran into penalty-trouble. Merritt, who owns the BCHL’s best power-play percentage, spent nearly half the second on the man-advantage and they eventually cashed-in on one of their three chances.
With just 20-seconds left in a Vees’ penalty, Zach Risteau scored his first of two power-play goals at 16:24. Robson stopped the original shot by Tyler Ward but the puck trickled through his pads and sat behind him in the crease. Risteau had the easy tap-in to put Merritt up 2-0.
Just over a minute after that goal, the Vees were dinged for another two penalties, as Duncan Campbell was called for a two separates penalties late in the second. The four-minute power-play carried over into the third period and that’s where Merritt did their damage.
In the dying moments of the four-minute power-play, Risteau scored his second of the game from the right-circle at 1:14. Risteau firing the puck into an open net after a cross-ice pass.
Robson was pulled after that power-play goal, giving way to Nolan Hildebrand who played out the final 18-minutes and change.
Penticton finally got on the scoresheet with just under five-minutes left in regulation. Owen Sillinger pounced on a rebound off the goalie’s pad at 15:51; his 14th of the season. The goal seemed to spark Penticton, as they quickly turned up the pressure.
With the goalie pulled in favour of the extra attacker, the Vees made things very interesting with just over 33-seconds left on the clock. It was a case of follow the bouncing puck, as Grant Cruikshank’s point-shot skipped towards the net, before Taylor Sanheim alertly batted it in out of the air at the side of the net; his second coming at 19:26.
Penticton tried to pull off the improbable comeback, as they pulled the goalie once more but came up empty handed in the closing seconds.
Final Score: 3-2 Merritt
Shots: 36-35 Vees
Power-Plays: Vees 0-3 Merritt 2-6
Three Stars: 1) Tyler Ward 2) Zach Risteau 3) Jacob Berger
Vees Notes: Nolan Hildebrand stopped all 11 shots he faced in just under 19-minutes of action in the third period. Merritt’s two power-play goals ended a run of 17 straight penalties killed-off by the Vees, dating back to December 30th. It was Merritt’s first win against Penticton since February 26th, of last season. Penticton has now lost three straight road games dating back to November 30th.
It’s a quick turnaround for the Vees (30-9-0-1), as they host the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (13-20-2-5) at the SOEC at 6 pm tomorrow night. Saturday is Valley First’s annual Feed the Valley Night, as fans are asked to bring a non-perishable food item to the game, in exchange for a $5 ticket. All donations are going to the Salvation Army Food Bank. Tickets are available at the Valley First box office (at the SOEC).