SilverBacks sweep series

Streak: The ’Backs clear the puck during their 4-3 overtime win in Merritt Monday.

Streak: The ’Backs clear the puck during their 4-3 overtime win in Merritt Monday.

Paul De Jersey sent the Salmon Arm SilverBacks into the second round of the playoffs after he scored a highlight reel goal at 4:03 into the third period, giving them a 6-5 win.

The first period was a lively one with both clubs combining for five goals including a Merritt goal with two seconds left in the period for a 3-2 Salmon Arm lead after 20 minutes. Brett Knowles, Mike Hammond and Devin Gannon scored for the Apes, Stack and Wilcox for the Cents. The Wilcox goal was with the mad advantage, Merritt going 1 for 2 on the night.

In the middle frame, Brad Reid and Mike Hammond gave the visitors a comfortable 5-2 lead before the Cents began their typical come-back associated in this series. This resulted in a Merritt goaltending change as starter Tyler Steel was replaced with Lino Chimienti after allowing five goals on 26 shots. This seem to give Merritt life as they scored three goals in four minutes and suddenly the game was tied 5-5 thanks to Brears, Pfeil and Jones. The Cents outshot the ‘Backs 15 to 7 in the second period.

The ‘Backs locked down the neutral zone in the third period, especially for the final 16 minutes of the game as the Cents had difficulty getting the puck into the Salmon Arm end of the ice. Salmon Arm outshot Merritt 38 to 30 but the Apes continued to struggle on the power play going 0 for 6.

Mike Hammond was the first star while Merritt’s Jeff Jones and Regan Soquila were the second and third stars. Kris Moore was the winning goaltender facing 30 shots.

Three games into the playoffs, the SilverBacks showed they could win hockey games in a few different ways, after a 7-2 win in Friday’s Game 1 followed by a pair of 4-3 wins including an overtime triumph Monday night.

The five-goal margin on Friday came courtesy of two goals each from Charlie Vasaturo and Mike Hammond but blowout wins are something ’Backs coach Tim Kehler assumes will be rare. He’s been pleased with his team’s ability to win the tight games too.

“Meritt’s got a good team that competes hard and they had some pushback which we expected in Game 2,” he said. “I liked the fact that we didn’t play our best game but found a way to win… we got a big goal when the game was on the line.”

That goal came Saturday with just over two minutes left and was the result of a strong forecheck by Brandon Mistal. Jarryd Ten Vaanholt converted a centring pass from Bryce Gervais over the shoulder of Cents goalie Lino Chimienti.

Monday night’s drama resulted from the ’Backs holding leads of 2-0 and 3-2 but Merritt came back each time and forced overtime on Jeff Jones’ third-period marker. Paul De Jersey played hero in the first overtime period as he converted a feed from Brett Knowles who had a goal and three helpers on the night.

“It was a huge goal in overtime,” said Kehler. “I’ve done a little bit of line juggling (with De Jersey), he’s got the skill to play with our top (line) but what’s really improved for him since coming from Coquitlam is his work rate and that’s allowing his offensive skills to shine through.”

Another nice development for the Gorillas is the re-emergence of Devin Gannon who scored the first two goals in Monday’s win. The Kamloops product was quiet in the second half of the season but is heating up at the right time.

“He was among our scoring leaders (in the first half of the season) and had a little bit of a tail-off but continued his strong play; he just wasn’t putting the puck in the net and that’s changed over the last few games highlighted by (Monday’s) two goals,” said Kehler. “He’s playing his best hockey of the season right now.”

The SilverBacks now advance to the semi-finals and will face the Vees with the series beginning in Penticton on March 8 and 9. The Vees also swept their opening round series against the Quesnel Millionaires. Games 3 and 4 return to the Sunwave Centre on Friday and Saturday March 11 and 12, 7 p.m. both nights. Salmon Arm will use the week break to nurse a beat-up roster, including injured players David Killip, Brandon Mistal and Morgan Zulinick.

• Awards: A trio of SilverBacks were recognized in the annual BCHL awards and all-star voting. Tim Kehler won the Joe Tenant Memorial Trophy as Interior Conference Coach of the Year, Bryce Gervais won the Bruce Allison Memorial Trophy as Interior Rookie of the Year and Mike Hammond was named a Conference All-Star to go along with his Brett Hull Trophy as top scorer.

“I thought there were five legitimate candidates in our conference so I was certainly pleasantly surprised to win the award,” said Kehler of his coaching nod, adding assistants Colin O’Hara and Ryan Parent and the commitment of his players made it all possible.

He was also pleased for Gervais and Hammond.

“Bryce has been tremendous; his scoring prowess is even better than his numbers indicate because he’s often been in a third-line role.

“(Hammond) has been all that was advertised when we acquired him. He’s a great team kid and his will to win is incredible.”