For the opening 20 minutes, the Merritt Centennials hardly resembled a team which hurried to get ready for the Vernon Vipers Friday night at Kal Tire.
The Cents, whose bus broke down just outside of Kamloops, didn’t arrive at Ka Tire Place unti 7:15. The B.C. Hockey League game started at 7:57 and the Cents went ahead 98 seconds after the national anthem. They made it 2-0 late in the period but the Vipers pushed back hard for a 4-2 victory before 1,622 fans.
Henry Cleghorn jumpstarted the Merritt offence by burying a loose puck right on goalie Ty Taylor’s doorstep. Vernon defenceman Mitch Andres mishandled the puck trying to carry it up past the net. Cleghorn has 15 snipes on the season. Chase Bell and Mathieu Gosseling earned helpers.
D-man Colten Gerlib upped the Cents’ lead on a powerplay, converting a high wrister through a screen over Taylor’s left shoulder. Gerlib’s second of the season came with 31 seconds remaining in Jimmy Lambert’s slashing minor. Bell and Jackson Munro pocketed assists.
Earlier in the period, Gosselin struck the post on a breakaway after the Vipers whiffed on a shot after applying heavy pressure for 45 seconds.
The Vipers outshot the Cents 18-6 in the middle stanza and pulled within a goal at 16:07 when blueliner Michael Young beat Jake Berger with a point shot, That came with 14 seconds left in Jack Vincent’s crosschecking penalty. Josh Prokop produced the assist.
Vernon pulled even at 17:59 when captain Jagger Williamson popped in a loose puck in the deep slot after a gorgeous toe-drag by Josh Prokop on the left flank.
Sam Anzai netted the winner at 9:55 of the third period with a wrister from the ringette line after he called for a back pass from Keyvan Mokhtari
Williamson, who took first star with 2+1, completed the offence three minutes later with his 13th on a rebound after Prokop shot from the left corner. The line of Williamson, Prokop and Fortis Energy Player of the Game Jesse Lansdell garnered seven points.
Vernon remained first overall in the 17-team league with 53 points. The Cents dropped to 14-15-2-1 and sixth in the Interior Conference.
RJ Murphy scored art 4:59 of overtime as the West Kelowna Warriors upended the Penticton Vees 3-2 before 962 fans at Royal LePage Place.
The Vipers, who had assistant Kevin Kraus serving as head coach with Mark Ferner in Phoenix scouting a Midget tournament, host the Trail Smoke Eaters Saturday night.