The Merritt Centennials will have a little extra holiday cheer as they head into the Christmas break.
The Cents knocked off the B.C. Hockey League’s top two Interior teams to end their pre-holiday schedule, icing the Penticton Vees 5-1 Wednesday before doubling the Vernon Vipers 6-3 Friday night at Nicola Valley Arena.
Merritt, fourth in the six-team Interior at 19-13-0-2, nearly blew a 3-0 lead, but banked a trio of third-period snipes just over three minutes apart to secure the win.
“There were definitely some ups and downs for us in that game,” said Merritt assistant coach Joe Martin told Black Press. “The first period, we were very good. The second, we weren’t. Fortunately, things came together again in the third, and we managed to come away with a win.
“I give a lot of credit to our guys for putting the second period behind them at the intermission, and coming out and manufacturing a win.
“These last two games set you up for a good (Christmas) break or bad break. Our guys have shown that they deserve to be here, and that they can compete with the top guys and the top teams.”
Merritt’s line of Michael Ederer (first star), Colin Grannary (second star) and Brandon Duhaime, accounted for four of the Centennials’ goals, with Duhaime (4th goal) and Ederer (10th) pegging the hosts to a 2-0 first-period lead.
“We don’t win that hockey game without them in the lineup,” said Martin. “Those guys should feel pretty proud of themselves. They won us a hockey game against a good goalie (Jarrod Schamerhorn, 32 saves), a good defence, a good team. They were throwing the puck around really nice.”
A powerplay goal snipe by Nick Fidanza, his eighth of the year, had the Cents up by three 6:52 into the second frame before the 21-10-1-2 Vipers mounted a comeback.
Thomas Aldworth, powering his way up the wing before beating Jonah Imoo for his team-leading 25th goal, jumpstarted Vernon’s attack in the second half of period two.
Third star Liam Coughlin, capitalizing on a neutral-zone turnover, made a nice move on a Merritt defender and scored five-hole for his 14th. Captain Riley Guenther, with his second, on a powerplay, walked the blueline and fired a high one past a screened Imoo (27 saves).
Ederer (11th) and Grannary (10th) took advantage of some sloppy defensive turnovers by Vernon to put the game away in the third period. John Schiavo (18th), Merritt’s top point-getter with 18-21-39 in 34 games, fired on an empty net to complete the attack.
“Our start wasn’t good, but we found a way to crawl back into it,” said Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner. “We turned pucks over in areas we can’t turn pucks over and it cost us the hockey game.”
Ferner has been disappointed by his team’s erratic play of late, and especially by its lack of commitment in the defensive zone.
“They’re chasing the puck like it’s a girl at the bar at last call,” said Ferner. “Anyone can play defence, they just have to want to do it.
“If these kids want to move on to the next level, the determination needs to be there.”
Ferner joked the Vipers had better bring a better effort in their final game before the break, which went Saturday against the Powell River Kings (15-11-0-7) at Kal Tire Place, or he might have to vent his frustration by bag-skating the kids he is coaching in a holiday hockey school.
“They (Vipers) can’t have a just-when-I-feel-like-it attitude,” he said. “Right now, we’re like a box of chocolates – we really don’t know what we’re going to get from one night to the next.”
The Snakes return to action Friday, Jan. 2 to face the Vees (27-5-2-1) at the South Okanagan Events Centre. They begin a three-game home stand at The Big Wheel against the Trail Smoke Eaters (12-18-0-2) Saturday, Jan. 3.
In other BCHL play Friday night, the Vees rebounded from their loss to Merritt by grounding the West Kelowna Warriors 4-2.
Cody DePourcq and Lewis Zerter-Gossage paced Penticton’s attack with a goal and assist each. Josh Bly bagged a deuce for the 18-11-0-5 Warriors.
The Salmon Arm Silverbacks built a two-goal lead and held on for a 4-3 win over the Smokies at the Shaw Centre.
Taro Hirose supplied the winner 4:37 into the final period. Vernon product Harlan Orr, a 19-year-old forward with Trail, cut the lead to one with 5:06 to play.
The ‘Backs, winners of two straight, improved to 12-13-3-5, while the Smoke Eaters have dropped eight straight.