The West Kelowna Warriors were in a tug of war all night but couldn’t find a way to pull through as they fell to the Merritt Centennials by a 6-5 score at Royal LePage Place on Friday night.
Game photos from tonight’s game provided by Ken Reid with Greystoke Photography
1) EARLY JITTERS
It was noticeable the Warriors were a bit taken back by the early feelings of playoff hockey and the Centennials certainly jumped on that with two goals in the opening eight minutes of the game. Goaltender Cole Demers was susceptible to some early game jitters as he fought the puck a bit at times in the early going and gave up a couple of goals that he would want back. A media timeout at about the halfway mark of the 1st period gave the Warriors some calmness and they capitalized on their only power play of the game and turned the tables, making the Cents look nervous in the later part of the period. Give credit to the Centennials, despite players that have not been on this kind of a stage before in their junior hockey careers, they rose to the occasion and guys like Zach Risteau and Tyler Ward were the driving forces behind a big opening game victory for the Centennials. The Warriors rebounded nicely from their sluggish start in a highly-entertaining Game #1 but couldn’t get a sixth goal to force the game into extra time, despite their best efforts late in the game. There were a few goals that I’m sure Demers would like to have back and some sloppy play by the Warriors that needs to be cleaned up, especially on a night that the offense produced the way they did from a team that normally has a hard time scoring three goals in a game, nevermind five. It’s a learning experience for everyone in the locker room and something they can carry with them into Game #2 on Saturday night.
2) MOMENTUM SWINGS
You’re going to hear it a lot during the course of this series (and playoffs in general) but the way that momentum swings are handled will be crucial and I thought the Warriors did a good job of managing the crazy swings of momentum that were seen in a game that had a lot of them. Getting down by 2-0 and 3-1 scores right off the bat is never an easy task but the Warriors dug deep and dug themselves out of an early hole in the game and got to back at even after two periods. Even with getting down by two late in the game, the resilience of this club got them to within one goal but just unable to find the equalizer. Certainly a momentum swing to watch will be Merritt’s top two lines as Ward with Michael Regush and Brett Jewell were flying tonight and Risteau’s line was doing the same as he was all over the ice during the duration of the game. With Merritt winning the opening game of the series, it’s just another momentum swing in what will be a long, grueling series and the Warriors will have to come out with some jump in their step on Saturday night to try and get this series knotted at one heading back to Merritt early in the week.
My takeaways from the Warriors 6-5 loss to the Merritt Centennials to open their playoff series is that the Warriors had a few mistakes that cost them and will need to shore up a bit in their own zone, along with getting more consistent goaltending, to get themselves level in this series. Merritt played a very strong game (although I thought Jacob Berger could’ve had a better net in between the pipes as well) and the Warriors will need to stay out of the penalty box in order to keep the game 5-on-5 and an even playing field. Now the penalties were 5 to 1 in the end of it all in favour of the Warriors, something I thought was a bit off, especially since the Cents were certainly no saints either. No time to dwell on that subject however as Game #2 is just around the corner and a chance for the Warriors to even the series at one.
I would like to mention the great news the franchise received in the 1st intermission as Director of Business Operations Alex Draper relayed on a message from Warriors owner Mark Cheyne that the team will remain in West Kelowna for next season as a group of local investors has purchased the team. Details on the deal are a bit scarce at the moment (at least no one has told me) but will become available in the upcoming future. I have to give a huge hand to my partner in crime, Sheldon Bank, for his emotional reaction to the news. I haven’t been with the organization a long time but to see someone like Sheldon, who has been with the franchise since it’s upbringing, brought to tears at the news is such a special moment and I’d like to commend him for his thoughts and remaining on the broadcast and bringing insightful information even with the hysteria around him. Seeing his reaction along with others from around the arena is the sole reason why this team needed to stay in West Kelowna and it wouldn’t have gotten there without the timeless efforts from the Warriors staff and their fans. Rest up, because Game #2 promises to be another thriller.