It started slowly but built to a wild and fiery conclusion.
When the dust had settled, however, the Warriors had curbed a 3-game losing streak thanks to a nervous 5-3 win in Merritt.
The first 40 minutes were routine enough.
David Pope opened the scoring when he walked off the right half-wall and ripped one low and hard past Jarrod Schamerhorn.
Early in the second, a high-tempo move from West Kelowna ended up on Tyson Dallman’s stick, with #24 pounding one right through Schamerhorn’s legs.
The Warriors had a great chance to add some daylight at the end of the second, but instead the game tightened up when Cents D-man Tyler Martin converted a nicely executed short-handed 2-on-1 with Sam Johnson.
The final 20 minutes really heated up. The physical play came from both sides, and while they missed a bunch of stuff both ways, the two refs seemed unable to calm down two bitter rivals engaged in one last standoff. Not like it was a bloodbath. No fights. Nothing serious. Just playoff hockey.
As well as the animosity, however, there was a sudden explosion on the scoresheet. Seb Lloyd kicked things off with a deft tip-in at 4:33. Brett Mennear roofed an Adam Osczevski feed at 5:41. The Warriors were up 4-1, but Merritt wasn’t done. Zach Hartley won a battle behind the net and set up an Adam Tracey tally at 5:39. Then Sam Johnson deflected a Dane Birks drive at 7:05. Two goals for the Warriors in 41 seconds. Then two goals for Merritt in 1:27. Four goals overall in the span of 2:32. Things were wide-open, but West Kelowna was still up a goal.
Carl Hesler thought he’d scored in there too, but the referees didn’t award it. Andy Desautels made a bunch of clutch saves, including a masterful glove stop on Scott Patterson. And finally, with 3 ½ minutes remaining, Adam Osczevski snuck one through traffic to give West K. the insurance that this time would last.
The two points didn’t gain West Kelowna any ground, but they did allow the Warriors to keep pace. Penticton survived a scare at home to Trail. Vernon got by Salmon Arm in OT.
So we now know who the top three will be. Merritt controls its own destiny in the race for fourth. It’ll be interesting to watch the scoreline as the Cents visit Salmon Arm on Saturday. Likewise Penticton’s visit to Vernon.
The Warriors, meanwhile, head into a final three games against the Smoke Eaters, needing some help and a good run to head into the post-season on the front foot.
Everyone said the jockeying in this division could last until the very end of the year, and everyone was right. This is as tight as I’ve ever seen this division. Just as tight as, say, a Canada vs. USA Olympic hockey game.
Check out my post-game interview with Brett Mennear right here.
In the broadcast, I also ran an interview I did on Thursday with Providence’s Josh Monk. Listen here if you dig.