The Penticton Vees were unable to deliver the knockout punch on the Merritt Centennials Thursday at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
The Centennials avoided elimination by skating away with a 5-4 victory, forcing a Game 6 in the BCHL Interior Division semifinal series at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena on Friday.
“We didn’t have a great start. It wasn’t like we played awful,” said Vees captain Nicholas Jones. “We made stupid mistakes all over the place and didn’t have the killer instinct that we needed.”
The Vees trailed 4-2 at one point and clawed back on goals by Jared Nash, late in the second period, and Grant Cruikshank at 11:33 of the third, both first post-season goals for each. The Centennials were quick to erase any momentum the Vees may have had less than two minutes later. Rookie Rylan Van Unen tapped in the winner on a cross crease feed by Tyler Ward past Mat Robson, who finished with 21 saves. Van Unen was a healthy scratch the previous two games.
The Centennials scored 2:49 into the second on the power play when Stephan Seegar quickly tapped in a short rebound that Robson kicked out. That gave the Centennials a 3-1 lead. Mitch Meek cut the lead back to one when he blasted home a shot after the Vees won a faceoff. Just over five minutes later, Zach Risteau gave the Centennials a 4-2 lead when his low shot beat Robson stick side. Nash got the Vees within one. Causing problems in front of Berger, Joseph Leahy’s point shot hit Nash, who battled a Centennial for position.
The Centennials struck first on Gleekel’s goal at 14:59. Owen Sillinger got the Vees back even during a two-man advantage. Nicholas Jones circled the zone and fed Cruikshank the puck near the blueline. He fired a shot that was redirected by Sillinger at 10:15. Zachary Zorn restored the Centennials lead as he was able to put a rebound past Robson who desperately dove to try to stop the puck. Nick Fidanza and Chase Bell picked up assists.
Gleekel was named the first star, while Cruikshank earned the second star with a goal and an assist and Sillinger was named the third star.
“We handed them a lot of goals. We made simple mistakes that we shouldn’t be making in the playoffs,” said Jones. “Missed executions all over the place. They played well. They came to our building and got a win. We got to go there and get one.”
In other BCHL action, the Chilliwack Chiefs swept the Wenatchee Wild. The Chiefs closed out that series on March 22. The Vernon Vipers won their series over the Trail Smoke Eaters in five games, earning a 6-2 victory on home ice.
The Powell River Kings shut out the Victoria Grizzlies 3-0 on Thursday and now lead their series 3-2.
Vees notes: Affiliate player Massimo Rizzo (27) slotted in for Turner Ripplinger spending some time on a line with Nash and Ryley Risling. Rizzo, of the Burnaby Winter Club, was named the most valuable player by the Canadian Sport School Hockey League for the Midget Prep Division and was also its Freshman of the Year.