Cents still trying to solve Warriors
It’s rapidly becoming old news — the kind the Merritt Centennials and their fans are getting sick and tired of reading.
For the fifth time in as many meetings this season, the Cents lost to the West Kelowna Warriors by a single goal, coming out on the wrong end of a 2-1 score on home ice Saturday night.
The Cents got on the board first, thanks to a beautiful shorthanded goal by team captain Brent Fletcher at 11:48 of the first period. Unfortunately, the rest of the night’s scoring came courtesy of the Warriors. Mitch Nardi and Marcus Basara tallied in the second period to give the visitors a lead they would never relinquish.
Neither team was able to score in the final 20 minutes of regulation play, despite Merritt outshooting West Kelowna 19-9 (and 44-34 on the night).
Cents head coach and GM Luke Pierce refuses to believe that the Warriors have his team’s number.
“No, I don’t think they’re in our head at all. When you look back at every game with them, we’ve made mistakes and given them goals. It’s not like they’re better than us, or that we can’t play at their level.”
Pierce did concede that Warriors netminder Tyler Briggs, who stopped 43 Cents shots on Saturday, is tough to beat.
“He’s very good. He really comes out and challenges the shooter. We need to adjust and get him moving more.”
The loss to the Warriors took some of the lustre out of a weekend that saw the Centennials roll into Penticton on Friday and lay a 5-2 beating on the Vees. It was the second victory by Merritt over its arch rival in seven days, and boosted the Cents’ record against the Interior Division leaders and defending RBC champions to 5-2 this season.
Pierce compared the scoreless first period of the Cents-Vees contest to a chess match, with neither team wanting to take any real chances.
The second period saw a total of three goals. Regan Soquila and Derek Huisman scored on the power play for the Centennials while Brad McClure replied for the Vees.
Merritt broke open the tight contest early in the third period with two goals 10 seconds apart by Soquila and Sebastien Pare.
Huisman added to the lead with a shorthanded empty-netter, and Cody DePourcq would get one back for the Vees in the final four minutes of the game.
Cents goaltender Tyler Steel picked up his second win over the Vees in a week, and fifth this season, turning aside 32 of 34 shots, while Merritt put five past Penticton netminder Chad Katunar (on just 21 shots), who was replaced by Nic Renyard with 15 minutes left in regulation play.
“We talked about drawing more power plays and taking advantage of them,” Pierce said, “and that’s exactly what we did. Also, at the beginning of the third period, we wanted to force the issue. We were rewarded with two goals just seconds apart.”
With West Kelowna just three points back of the Centennials in the battle for second place and home-ice advantage come playoffs, this weekend’s home-and-home series between the two teams is shaping up to be a real bare-knuckles showdown.
Friday, the Cents travel to West Kelowna to take on the Warriors at Royal LePage Place. Game time is 7 p.m.
Saturday, it’s a 7:30 p.m. puck drop at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. Coach Pierce would love to see a full house.
“We need to get all our fans out on Saturday to show their support,” the bench boss said. “They need to realize that we’re in a real dogfight for second place.”