In the hotly-contested BCHL Interior Division, games often go down to the wire. The Salmon Arm Silverbacks vs. Merritt Centennials double-header over the weekend lived up to the expectation for excitement.
The teams met at the Shaw Centre on Friday, Nov. 8.
The first period passed scoreless, but the Silverbacks wasted no time getting on the board after the face-off to open the second. Less than a minute in Antonio Andreozzi scored assisted by Nick Unruh and Drew Bennett.
Merritt’s Joey Berkopec made it an action-packed start to the second period by tying the game three minutes in. The Cents’ goal was followed by Unruh getting one of his own on some shorthanded heroics. Noah Wakeford stretched the Silverbacks’ lead to two goals later in the period and they held on through the rest of the period.
It looked as though the Silverbacks would be able to hold on for the win as the 10-minute mark of the third period passed without the Centennials making any progress to counter the ‘Backs two-goal advantage. With just over five-minutes to go Payton Matsui changed that, beating the Silverbacks’ Ethan Langenegger backhand to make the game close as the clock ticked down.
The Centennials pulled their goalie after both teams drew late minor penalties creating a five-on-four advantage for the visitors. With less than 30 seconds remaining a shot from Talon Zakell hit a player in front of the Silverbacks’ net but he got ahold of it again and found the back of the net to send the game into overtime.
In the overtime period, Unruh and William Poirier rushed the net on a two-on-one. Poirier’s backhander from in tight was held off by Centennials’ goaltender Ryan Winter. Veteran D-man Akito Hirose was there for the rebound, catching the visiting netminder out of position and putting the game to bed with a sudden-death goal to wrap up a 4-3 win.
The ‘Backs jumped on the bus to Merritt the following day to settle scores with a Centennials squad eager for another crack at them.
The second game of the weekend began in front of 685 fans at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. The tension remaining from last night’s game was apparent with Holden Knights and Merritt’s Olson Wrenka getting misconduct penalties before the puck had been dropped.
The Silverbacks got off to an early lead off the stick of Daniel Rybarik, but Merritt’s Wyatt Marlow evened the score seconds later. The tie held up through the rest of the period and power-play chances for both teams.
Merritt’s Brett Roloson scored early in the second and then Thomas Manty built on the home team’s lead. Unruh scored later in the period to leave the score 3-2 Cents going into the final 20 minutes.
A goal from Joey Berkopec early in the third gave the Silverbacks a big hole to climb out of and less than a period to do it. A Drew Bennett goal at 9:32 made it a closer game but Roloson potted his second of the night a minute later. Andreozzi found the back of the net on his second of the weekend, but the home team was able to reply once again leaving the score 6-4 with a minute and a half remaining.
Hirose scored the last goal of the game once more with 40 seconds to play, but the Silverbacks couldn’t score another to force overtime. At the buzzer the scoreboard read 6-5 Centennials.
Fans should mark their calenders for Jan. 31 2020 to see which team will come out on top when the Silverbacks and Centennials meet again.