Merritt Centennials’ rookie defenceman Dylan Chanter (left) of Armstrong battles Penticton Vees’ captain Logan Johnston in front of the net in Game 5 of the BCHL Interior Conference finals at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Penticton won 6-2 to win the best-of-seven series 4-1.

Merritt Centennials’ rookie defenceman Dylan Chanter (left) of Armstrong battles Penticton Vees’ captain Logan Johnston in front of the net in Game 5 of the BCHL Interior Conference finals at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Penticton won 6-2 to win the best-of-seven series 4-1.

Vees courting Kings

Penticton Vees stop Merritt Centennials 4-1 in best-of-seven BCHL Interior Conference playoff final.

For the first time in four years, the Powell River Kings won’t have to face the Vernon Vipers in the B.C. Hockey League’s Fred Page Cup Championships.

Unfortunately for Kent Lewis’s perennial Coastal Conference champs, they’re stuck with the runaway regular-season champion Penticton Vees.

Penticton brushed back the Merritt Centennials 4-1 in the best-of-seven Interior finals, finishing with a convincing 6-2 win in Game 5 Monday night before 2,700 fans at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

Powell River advanced after stuffing the Surrey Eagles 4-1 in the Coastal championship, capped by a 3-0 win in Game 5 Monday night on the Sunshine Coast.

The Vees exploded for four unanswered first-period goals, started at the 2:43 mark by Prince Albert Mintos’ grad Bryce Gervais. Wade Murphy, Logan Johnston (powerplay) and Joey Benik also capitalized for Penticton before Silvan Harper responded for the Cents late in the period.

“We didn’t have a good start and we tried to battle back,” said Cents’ rookie d-man Dylan Chanter, an Armstrong product. “We battled all night and things just didn’t go our way. Definitely a tough way to end the year.”

Goals by first star Gervais, striking again early in the second frame, and Ryan Reilly completed the Penticton assault in support of Chad Katunar, who has taken over starting netminder duties from the injured Michael Garteig, a former King.

Merritt netminder Lino Chimienti allowed five goals on 20 shots before being relieved by Vernon’s Tyler Steel early in the final frame. Steel recorded five saves, allowing one goal.

Johnston said the Vees were confident coming into their rink with a 3-1 series lead, and it showed in their play.

“I think we were calm coming in. We knew we had the upper hand,” said the tenacious Penticton captain. “They knew they were coming into our barn. It’s a tough game for them to play and then we capitalized early so it just kind of kept the ball rolling for us.

“I think we  have been a bit snake bitten for the series. We have been getting a lot of chances, but tonight we had more go in like we did in the regular season so that was good for us.”

In time, Chanter says the Cents will look back on the season and call it a success. Not many pundits gave them a chance to get as far as they did.

“We’re proud of what we accomplished,” said Chanter. “The team, the organization, we haven’t done this in a long time, so it’s something to be proud of.

“For the guys coming in next year, it makes us want to go that much further. For the guys who are leaving this year (Chimienti, forwards Evan Stack, Chad Brears, Carter Shinkaruk, and defenceman Billy Marshall), we’ve got to thank them so much. They worked really hard this year.”

In Game 4 Saturday night at Nicola Valley Arena, the Vees benefitted from a pair of controversial calls and went on to win 3-2 in double overtime.

At the 7:05 mark of sudden-death, Murphy buried a rebound behind Chimienti for the winner.

It looked as though the Cents had scored the opening goal when Richard Sabourin’s point shot early in the first period redirected past a screened Katunar. The linesman closest to the play indicated the puck had hit a high stick (apparently Brears’), although no other officials saw it, and the goal was waved off.

The Vees’ Steven Fogarty and Merritt’s Marshall, scoring shorthanded, exchanged goals just over two minutes apart in the second period.

In a slightly more cautious third period, Brayden Low pounced on a big rebound with 6:38 remaining in regulation to give the Cents the go-ahead.

However, less than a minute later, Benik fired from a sharp angle and roofed a shot over Chimienti’s shoulder and just under the crossbar to force OT. The goal was controversial as the red light never came on, but referee Korey Martens  immediately pointed to the net to indicate a goal. Despite a protest by Merritt head coach Luke Pierce, and a long conversation with the goal judge and Martens’ fellow officials, the goal stood.

“Both calls, there’s nothing we can do about them,” said Pierce, on Monday morning. “Vees’ fans are going to say they were the right calls, and Merritt fans are going to say they were the wrong calls. That’s just sports. All you can do is hope the puck bounces your way next time.”

Penticton had by far the better chances in circus time, but Chimienti was outstanding for the Cents.

With files from Emanuel Sequeira and Ian Webster of Black Press.