By Ian Webster on March 25, 2017
Tyrell Buckley’s second goal of the playoffs at 10:23 of the first overtime period on Friday lifted the Merritt Centennials to a 2-1 home ice victory in game six of their best-of-seven playoff series with the Penticton Vees. With the series now knotted at three games apiece, the two teams will play a seventh-and-deciding game this coming Monday in Penticton.
After both teams had enjoyed several good scoring chances in the sudden-death overtime, the game winner came off a rush down the right side by Merritt’s Michael Regush. He dropped the puck to a trailing Buckley who wired a shot past the glove of Penticton goalie Mathew Robson.
Merritt players poured off the bench to congratulate Buckley, as well as Cents’ netminder Jake Berger, who was again brilliant in stopping 47 of 48 shots sent his way. It was a goaltender’s battle all night long, as Robson was equally impressive – turning aside all but two of 54 shots.
Following an inspirational 5-4 win the night before in Penticton, the Centennials came out like gangbusters in game five – intent upon winning two in a row over the Vees for the first time in many, many years, and eager to tie up the playoff series at three games each.
The Cents peppered Robson with 25 shots in the first period alone, and were rewarded with the only goal of the opening 20 minutes – courtesy of Zach Zorn at the 17:23 mark. Assists went to Cade Gleekel and Nick Fidanza.
The scored remained 1-0 for Merritt until the 11:45-mark of the middle stanza, when Penticton’s Matt Gosiewski was allowed to skate into the high slot alone and fire a shot past Berger high glove side.
Both teams had opportunities to net the go-ahead goal in the third period, but Berger and Robson stopped everything thrown at them. The shot count at the end of regulation play was 42-41 in favour of the Vees.
The Centennials came out in Friday’s overtime determined not to repeat what happened in game four on Tuesday – when they played too cautiously and gave up the game winner just five minutes in. This time around, the Cents attacked the Vees with vim and vigour, and were justly rewarded.
The final shot count was Merritt 52 Penticton 48. The Cents failed to score on their two powerplay opportunities, while the Vees were 0-for-3 with the man advantage.
The second period of Friday’s game saw the usually mild-mannered Regush assessed a 10-minute penalty for some after-the-whistle truculence. The 19-year-old Surrey native has been playing with more of an edge during the post-season, and it has definitely enhanced his game. The six-foot one-inch, 205-pound power forward has laid out some thunderous hits in the playoffs, while also dominating the faceoff dot at both ends of the ice.
The two team get two days rest before the seventh-and-deciding game on Monday at the South Okanagan Events Centre – an arrangement that was mutually agreed upon by both parties before the second-round series even started.
The announced crowd at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena on Friday night was a season-high 1,080 paying customers. A fan bus is currently being organized for Monday night’s game in Penticton.