It was one of the ugliest wins the Warriors have earned this year.
But that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
The Warriors rode strong goaltending, smart defence, and a couple of screened shots to escape Merritt with a 2-1 win on Saturday night.
It was another classic matchup between the clubs –with very little room to breathe anywhere on the ice and plenty of bad blood to go around. The Centennials have a style of play perfectly suited to their small arena – but the Warriors have adapted well this year and managed to steal another narrow one tonight.
I thought it was a fairly even first period, but the Centennials drew first blood while short-handed midway through the frame. After stripping Brennan Clark at his own blue line, Kevin Lohan (who had a strong night) lugged the puck all the way up ice before sending Brent Fletcher in all alone. Fletcher would beat Briggs on the breakaway, as he continues to be one of Merritt’s best players against West Kelowna.
The Warriors would dominate the early stages of the second period and surge into the lead. Mitch Nardi beat Tyler Steel 75 seconds into the period on what seemed to be a soft wrister. But I guess Steel was screened on the play – obviously a big part of WK’s game-plan.
Steel was screened again midway through the period when Marcus Basara beat him with a shot from distance on a Warriors PP. The goal would hold up as the eventual winner – and while both Warriors goals may have been a little lucky, they were also both exactly what this team needs to do to succeed in Merritt.
The Centennials had a great push in the third period, firing 19 shots at Tyler Briggs and getting a ton of pressure in the offensive zone. Having said that, while Merritt had lots of possession in West Kelowna ice all game long, I thought the Warriors did a wonderful job of blocking shooting lanes and keeping most of it to the outside. The Centennials had lots of chances but not a ton of “Grade ‘A’” opportunities. And of course, when they did break through, Tyler Briggs was a wall.
And while I thought the Cents had done a great job of getting pucks deep and generating cycles all game, it seemed like they got away from that in the dying moments. I’d say Merritt had an admirable third period and played a solid game throughout – but the Warriors got a couple of bounces, played smart, and rode some great goaltending to the finish line.
It was a really chippy game, and while there were only 8 powerplays (Warriors 1/3 – Merritt 0/5), there were battles all over the ice and scrums after seemingly every whistle. There were a few borderline hits that almost led to fights and plenty of other stuff that you have to expect out of this rivalry. And I doubt we’ll see anything different with the teams set to dual twice more next weekend to wrap up the season series.
The win moves the Warriors to 5-0 vs. Merritt this year and keeps West Kelowna’s hopes of earning home-ice advantage alive. Things just keep getting more interesting with every passing game!
A couple of other quick thoughts:
- Shawn Hochausen returned to action on Saturday and had an impact immediately. He didn’t notch any points, but the big centreman won a lot of battles and faceoffs, especially with time winding down. (Rylan Ferster also admitted to me before the game; losing Hochhausen for the past seven games was a blow – but having a rested and healthy Hochhausen down the stretch will be invaluable.)
- Braxton Bilous’ suspension is now done, meaning the Warriors have now served all of the discipline stemming from the Jan. 26th encounter with the Vees, aside from the single-game bans that Dustin Cave and Brennan Clark must serve.
- David Pope sat out Saturday’s contest, but may well return to action on Tuesday. I understand that Brett McKinnon could be ready by then as well.
- Next action is a Tuesday evening home date against Vernon. It’s the second-last home game of the regular season.
- The Warriors can now finish no lower than third in the Interior Conference.
Click here to listen to my post-game interview with Marcus Basara.