The Merritt Centennials battled back and took the Chilliwack Chiefs down to the wire, but a late 5-on-3 goal and an empty netter helped the Chiefs outlast the Cents 6-4.
It was all Chiefs in the first period as they dictated play early on. Ethan Bowen scored just 40 seconds in to give Chilliwack the early lead. They added to it on their first powerplay with Rylan Van Unen in the box to make it 2-0. Hudson Thornton made it 3 goals in the first 7 minutes and the Cents had dug themselves in a hole. Ryan Winter battled through 18 shots in the first period, while the Cents fired just 6 on net themselves.
The Cents needed a gargantuan effort to get back in the game, and that’s what they got from their group. They weren’t able to come through until the 10:35 mark when Evan Benwell was able to sneak the puck across the line on a goal mouth scramble. Then on the penalty kill, the Cents got a chance late and Wyatt Marlow was sent in all alone. He screamed in at full steam and then put on the brakes at the hash marks and threw the puck up high to make it 3-2. At the 17:30 mark, Thomas Manty ripped a wrist shot top corner bottle poppin to tie the game at 3. What seemed improbable heading in was made reality from hard work and determination. Shots after 2 were 28-19 Chiefs.
The teams set the stage for a big third period and the action didn’t disappoint. After some back and forth play, Nikita Nesterenko broke the deadlock after a broken play back door to regain the Chiefs lead at the 8:50 mark of the third. Josh Van Unen was hauled down on a breakaway and was awarded the rare penalty shot, despite making dangles in tight he wasn’t able to beat Thornton. Fortunately, off the ensuing faceoff he was able to win the puck back to Brophy Dunne who threw the puck and it found a way to tally his first BCHL goal. Then with the game getting to crunch time, the refs reared their heads calling a tripping call with 5 minutes left, then a high stick to put the top powerplay in the BCHL up 2 men late. The Chiefs converted with a back door feed to go up 5-4. Pushing for the equalizer with the net empty, Rylan Van Unen found Hunor Torzsok in the slot and his wrister rang off the post, only to fall on a Chiefs stick and be cleared down the ice and into the empty cage to ice the game 6-4. Final shots were 44-25.
After the game, Head Coach Derek Sweet-Coulter said the team deserved better, but they can’t complain after giving up too much early.
“I feel for the guys in the room because they played their butts off tonight, but you can’t give a team like Chilliwack that big of a lead and expect to win. Full marks on the comeback effort, but we need to be a better to get the result.”
The Cents will look to be a better on Friday night when they travel to Salmon Arm to take on the Silverbacks.