The West Kelowna Warriors swept the weekend over the Merritt Centennials and Surrey Eagles, beating Merritt 4-3 in 2OT on a penalty shot, before a 7-2 victory Sunday over the Eagles. Both games were tight affairs for some stretches, as the Warriors didn't pull away from the Eagles until the 3rd period at Royal Lepage Place.
On Friday night, the Warriors allowed an early goal with questionable interference run on Matthew Greenfield, but it stood as the Centennials looked poised for another high scoring night. West Kelowna would have none of it, as they finally earned themselves a power play halfway through the opening period, and Nick Rutigliano tied the game with a wicked wrist shot from the blueline over the blocker of Cole Kehler. The Centennials got a late goal off an unfortunate skate bounce to give them confidence into the middle frame, as the Warriors needed to regroup in the locker room.
In the 2nd period, it took 9:50 for the Warriors to tie the game, but Jonathan Desbiens 50th in the BCHL was a beautiful hard shot that ricocheted off the glove of Kehler and over the goal line as the Warriors bench jumped in excitement. They hadn't even stopped celebrating when the Warriors took the lead, as Garrett Forster's howitzer went off the blocker of Kehler and over the goal line for a 3-2 West Kelowna lead.
The physical play continued throughout the rest of the 2nd period and most of the 3rd, as the Centennials tied the game up short-handed with Malik Kaila in the box, as Gavin Gould beat Greenfield upstairs then went crashing into the Warriors netminder after the goal. Jake Harrison's slashing minor at the mid-point of the 3rd was the 11th power play for the Centennials, but big saves from Greenfield kept the game tied at 3. Greenfield's biggest save came on a cross ice one-timer with 11.9 seconds remaining as he stood tall and made a big save.
In the 4 on 4 overtime session, the Warriors would be called for a bench minor on an odd play at the Warriors bench. As a lead pass was coming to the Centennials player right along the Warriors bench, he stumbled and fell to the ground. The referee's deemed it to be Kylar Hope who opened the door/grabbed the Merritt player and Hope went across to serve the minor. Speaking after the game, Athletic Therapist Mike Bois said that the door was open, and he went to kick it closed so the player didn't get hurt falling into it, but ended up dumping him to the ice. Penalty on the Athletic Therapist? Or just bad luck?
The Warriors would kill off the minor and get into 3 on 3 hockey which set up one of the weirdest finishes of the season. In the BCHL if there's a penalty called during 3 on 3 OT, its an automatic penalty shot, and the Warriors were awarded 2 in 22 seconds late in the 5th frame. The first penalty shot was awarded after Malik Kaila shoved the net off as the Warriors pressed, but Hope was stopped by the glove hand of Kehler to keep it tied.
It was Liam Blackburn who earned the 2nd penalty shot as he made a nice move (above) around the defender before being hooked and unable to get a shot away. As the left-handed shooter from Prince George wound his way in alone on Kehler, Blackburn faked top shelf blocker and calmly slipped the puck between the legs of Kehler and sent the Warriors over the boards ecstatic to finally win a game at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.
The Warriors Special Teams went 2-7 on the power play, while the penalty kill ended up killing off 11 of 12 Merritt opportunities. Shots were 48-46 Warriors in the game, as Greenfield earned another 1st star with 43 saves on the night. The Warriors picked up their 1st win at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena since February 21st, 2014.
Warriors 7 - Eagles 2
After a somewhat quick turn-around (home at 1:00 am Sunday morning, 2:30 puck drop Sunday afternoon), the Warriors and Surrey Eagles finished off their season-series at Royal Lepage Place.
A tight game through 40 minutes was taken over in the 3rd by the Warriors, as they scored 4 times to run away with a 7-2 win.
In the opening period, Jonathan Desbiens took full advantage of an Eagles turnover in the slot and buried one past Justin Laforest to open the scoring. It was an Austin Anselmo individual effort that tied the game at 1, as he had two cracks at Keelan Williams, burying his own rebound off an end to end rush to knot it up.
West Kelowna scored a pair within 3 minutes to open up a 3-1 lead in the 2nd period, as Connor Sodergren re-directed a beautiful goal in on the power play, before Lane Gilliss scored his 3rd of the season. Bryan Nelson lead the rush off the left wing and fired a puck onto the goal, as the rebound popped free to Gilliss who put it home. A spinning back-hander by the Eagles Hunter Kero beat Williams for his 1st BCHL goal just 1:12 later.
Less than 5 minutes after the Eagles made it 3-2, Jake Harrison had enough (above). After being run at, and pushed and shoved repeatedly over the last 10 or so games (usually by 20 year old players), Harrison got into his 1st BCHL fight against Tyler Andrews. With only a 2 year age gap, the featherweight tilt was even throughout.
The Warriors 3rd period was one where they put the foot on the gas and basically tired the Eagles out to finish off the victory. Garrett Forster scored a pair of goals including one on a beautiful passing play with Liam Blackburn. A power-play goal from Nick Rutigliano (2nd in 2 nights) made it 5-2, setting up another BCHL first late in the game.
The rough stuff would be the order of the day at the mid point of the period as Rylan Yaremko laid out an Eagles player on the side boards. Yaremko wouldn't get a penalty on the play as everyone squared off with hands on each others jerseys (above). Misconducts would be handed out and the Warriors would get a man advantage out of the scrum.
Bryan Nelson would see some power play ice and make no mistake from the right circle. A pass from Lane Gilliss set him up, as Nelson (by his own admission) did his best Patrick Kane impression to finish it off. Forster and Blackburn's magic made it 7-2.
- The Warriors pick up 3 wins this week and move into a tie for 2nd with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the Interior Division. While fans on the outside looking in will see the opponents and call it a "weak schedule" right now for West Kelowna, the Warriors needed to earn each of their victories. They were solid in Trail, resilient in Merritt, and finally found their legs against Surrey to put it away. The confidence level should be increased in the Warriors room, with 3 more winnable game on the horizon. Merritt, Vernon, and Trail will be the next 3 opponents at home, before the Warriors visit the Silverbacks in what could be a very interesting showdown in the standings.
- Matthew Greenfield earned a pair of 1st stars this week in wins over Trail and Merritt with a .971 SV% in a pair of great performances. If you break down the goals he allowed, there was a great shot, one that goes in while a Merritt player is on top of him, one off a skate on a pass out front, and a short-handed breakaway. Those who want those types of goals to be stopped, are perfectionists.
- The Warriors were short-staffed without the services of Brett Mennear and Tanner Campbell this week, but AP Jordan Todd filled in nicely, as did Bryan Nelson moving up front. Playing on a line with Lane Gilliss, the trio saw regular ice in the Sunday game against Surrey, as Nelson and Gilliss both scored. I thought Todd had some great looks in that game as well.
- Tyler Anderson was the energy player for the Warriors on Sunday and not completely for his physical play. Anderson rushed the puck constantly throughout the game and had a few good looks for his 1st BCHL goal. He was put out as a forward in the last couple minutes to try and get one, but just couldn't bury. Anderson had 3 goals last season in Kindersley.
- Highlight of the Weekend: Its not on film, and nobody will ever be able to see it, but Garrett Forster decided to take the ice for warm-up in Merritt with his skate-guards on on Saturday night and hit the ice hard. The players couldn't stop laughing as they skated around, while Forster fumbled to remove them.