I was at tonight's Vipers-Centennials game as Merritt defeated Vernon 3-2 in overtime in front of 2,337 fans at Kal Tire Place.
Vernon: Bradley Cooper
Merritt: Austin Roden
1st Period: The Centennials jump on the Vipers off the opening faceoff and carry the play early and often. Just over a minute in, Mathieu Gosselin with a quick snap shot from in close just caught a piece of Bradley Cooper before trickling towards the goal line-post before a Vipers defender quickly cleared the puck from harms way on a close call to start the hockey game. Landon Fuller with the biggest check of the night just minutes in, got the crowd into the game early. Vernon needed close to five minutes to record their first shot of the game, before Matt Kowalski with a quick low shot was snagged by the glove of Austin Roden who flashed the leather. On the following play the Centennials would get the games first powerplay but unable to capitalize as the Snakes killed off the minor. Merritt continued to carry the better of the play, having full puck possession, were now outshooting the Snakes 6-2 at this point. Within minutes after the powerplay the Cents would eventually open the scoring. Nick Granowicz beat Bradley Cooper giving Merritt a 1-0 lead at 8:24 Mathieu Gosselin collected the lone helper. Just past the halfway mark Michael Van Unen was able to skate circles around the Vipers, walked in on three different occasions untouched before ringing a shot off the post. It was 1-0 Merritt after 20 minutes of play. The Centennials carried and dominated the play for most of the opening frame. Merritt had a ton of puck possession and zone time but didn't really create/or generate much for offense, had troubles getting pucks to the net. The Cents speed and aggressive forecheck was the difference, winning the puck battles and races. The Vipers defence played a little better after last night but were caught standing still with the puck tonight, in their own end before losing the puck to the Centennials forecheckers. The Snakes on the hand, didn't have much time with the puck or have much time in the offensive zone. The Vipers weren't much of a threat with the puck. The Cents were by far the better team and it showed. Shots were even 8-8.
2nd Period: The Vipers would get an early powerplay, their first of the contest. Vernon with one quality chance just seconds in, then struggled with the man advantage as Merritt killed off the penalty. Both teams went back and fourth for a while but neither team had any real quality chances. A few looks now and again. Vernon would get their second PP of the 2nd period near the midway mark but it was a strong Centennials penalty kill that kept the Snakes out of the offensive zone for periods at a time as the Vipers struggled with the powerplay. Merritt killed off the minor. With about six minutes remaining Vipers starting goaltender Bradley Cooper was forced to make back to back big saves with the Cents on the rush. Shortly after the Snakes would head back to the PP. Shorthanded with the Cents in control of the puck on the PK a quick shot from the point would be redirected in front forcing Bradley Cooper to make a big pad save off Jackson Munro. Back come Vernon as the Vipers would eventually get setup on the PP. Matt Kowalski would be stopped in front before Connor Marritt buried the rebound, tying the game 1-1 at 17:01 Kowalski & Josh Latta drew the assists. Inside the final minute the Cents would get a late powerplay that would continue into the 3rd period. It was tied 1-1 after 40 minutes of play. I thought the Vipers played better in the middle frame but again didn't really get a lot of grade a chances. Merritt had three or four quality chances in the second half but neither team had a ton of offensive opportunities. Both teams looked fairly even at times but the Centennials penalty kill was very good, ragged a lot of the clock. The Vipers powerplay struggled and looked disorganised. Vernon outshot Merritt 14-13.
3rd Period. Merritt started the frame on the man advantage that was carried over from the 2nd period. But the Cents couldn't capitalize after a strong Viper PK. Just after the penalty expired, Coleton Bilodeau with a quality chance from in close couldn't solve Centennials starting goaltender Austin Roden. Shortly after the parade to the penalty box started. Merritt would get back to back powerplays and capitalize on one. Brendan Schneider gave Merritt a 2-1 lead at 4:39 Joey Berkopec with the lone assist. The Vipers were able to kill off the second minor. Bradley Cooper had to be sharp on the PK. Just before the midway mark the Snakes would get back to back powerplays but struggled as Merritt killed off the minors. Both teams having trouble capitalizing with the man advantage. With three and a half minutes left, Tyler Ho looked to tie the game, couldn't get the puck up and over a down and out Austin Roden who was forced to make two large saves while on his backside, keeping this a one goal game. Late in the final frame the Centennials got into penalty trouble, giving Vernon a very short two man advantage. The Cents would kill off the remainder of the first minor before Josh Latta looked to tie the game, beat Austin Roden but not the crossbar. Still on the man advantage with the goaltender pulled for the extra attacker, Matt Kowalski tied the game 2-2 at 18:39 Josh Latta and Mitch Andres picked up the helpers. The Viper bench was fired up. Inside the final minute the Cents would take a late penalty with seconds remaining, giving the Snakes a late powerplay to finish the game. Connor Marritt on his knees couldn't beat Austin Roden down low at the side of the goal at the buzzer. It was tied 2-2 after 60 minutes of play. This was a penalty filled period with both teams taking several penalties. Neither team had any real quality chances with the man advantage. The Snakes played most of the second half on the PP, got a lot of rubber towards the goal but again no real quality or grade a chances. A lot of Vernon's shots were from well out, with no traffic in front. Not a lot of five on five in the 3rd period. Both coaches looked frustrated with the calls. Vernon outshot Merritt 14-6.
Overtime: The Snakes started the extra frame on the man advantage that was carried over from the third period. The Vipers couldn't put the game away on the powerplay as Merritt comes up with a big penalty kill to start overtime. Just as the penalty expired, Brendan Schneider with a burst of speed, went around two Viper defenders before going hard to the goal, looked to have Bradley Cooper beat but couldn't hit the open cage, ran out of real state. Shortly after Joey Berkopec tried a similar move, but was denied in close after Bradley Cooper shut the door on the goal line. With just under two minutes left in overtime the Centennials would jump on the powerplay for the remainder of the game-overtime. Moving the puck around and around, Merritt had troubles getting pucks to the goal. The Vipers did a good job at keeping the Cents to the outside. With the clock winding down, Mathieu Gosselin's slap pass spotted Nick Granowicz in front at the side of the goal, beat Bradley Cooper giving the visiting Merritt Centennials a 3-2 overtime victory at 4:52 as the Merritt bench erupted onto the ice. Gosselin with the lone helper. The Viper bench devastated, all hung their heads while the Cents celebrated the win. The Snakes had the chance to put the game away on the powerplay to start overtime, couldn't then lost the game on the penalty kill with just seven seconds left. Vernon outshot Merritt 3-1.
Top Player's: (Vernon)
The line of Josh Latta (2 assists), Matt Kowlaski (1 goal & 1 assist) & Connor Marritt (1 goal) Played well. I thought this line got better as the game went on. I didn't really notice them much in the 1st but they started to stand out at times as the game continued.
Bradley Cooper (25 saves) I thought was the better of the two goaltenders. Was forced to make several tough saves through out the night. I know Austin Roden faced more rubber but Cooper had the more difficult saves to make. This was a good pickup by Mark Ferner and the Vipers.
Game Thought's: (Vernon)
The Vipers were outplayed most of the opening frame but seemed to settle down as the game continued. I thought Vernon played much better in the 2nd and 3rd periods but had troubles creating/generating quality chances. The Vipers fired 39 shots on the Merritt goal but most of the Snakes shots were from well out, with no traffic in front, making life easy for Austin Roden. The Vipers defence had all kinds of trouble with Merritt's speed and aggrieve forecheck. The Cents were winning all the puck battles and races. Vernon's defence just wasn't quick enough clearing the zone. I thought the Vipers struggled with the man advantage all night. Nobody going to the front of the net, spent most of their time passing the puck around, and then taking a shot from the point or well out with very little to no traffic in front. Vernon also gave up the puck lots while on the PP, allowing the Centennials to rag time off the clock. The Vipers managed to gain a single point. Vernon drops to 14-16-7-3 are now two points back of Trail and four points back of Salmon Arm. Former Vernon Vipers Troy Mick, Trevor Keenan (2002-03) and Aaron Volpatti (2003-2006) were at tonight's game as was former Vernon Laker Spencer Ward (1992-1995). Another pretty big crowd for back to back home games this weekend.
Top Player's: (Merritt)
Michael Van Unen Was the Cents best d-man at both ends of the rink. A smooth skating defenceman that gave the Vipers troubles tonight. Played a strong game on the blueline.
Nick Wicks I thought played with a ton of speed, really used his speed and smaller statue to weave in and out of any Viper defenders.
Mathieu Gosselin (2 assists) Was one of the more dominate forwards tonight. Was always involved in the play, going to the net, had several quality looks-chances through out the game.
Nick Granowicz (2 goals) Scored the overtime winner was another forward who was hard to defend against, played hard, was going to the net often, smart with and without the puck, always found open ice.
Joey Berkopec (1 assist) Played very well. Has some wheels, can skate and move the puck. Another offensive minded forward for Merritt.
Austin Roden (37 saves) Saw more shots then Bradley Cooper but wasn't tested as much as the Vipers goaltender. Gave up several rebounds but made the first save. Comes out to challenge, doesn't give you a lot of room to shoot at. Played well in the victory.
Game Thought's: (Merritt)
The visiting Merritt Centennials were by far the better of the two teams after the first twenty minutes but in the 2nd and 3rd periods the Vipers managed to keep pace with the Cents. Overall I thought Merritt had more puck possession and the better scoring chances. The Cents play with a lot of speed and use that to their advantage, very strong and aggressive on the forecheck, winning most of the races-battles. Both teams couldn't capitalize with the man advantage, especially in the 3rd period. I really liked the Cents on the penalty kill, ragged a lot of time off the clock, as managed to get some offensive zone time and get the odd scoring opportunity. Merritt plays hard at both ends of the rink. Both teams got into penalty trouble in the 3rd period. With the win Merritt improves to 25-13-1-1 pass Penticton and move into 1st place in the division, one point ahead of the Vees. These two teams will meet again February 23rd in Merritt.
Ben Sanderson (Injured)
Jagger Williamson (Injured)
Jesse Lansdell (Suspended)
Jack Judson (Suspended)
Logan Cash (Injured)
Carver Watson (Injured)
Energy Player of the Game:
Josh Latta (2 assists)
1st Star: Nick Granowicz (2 goals)
2nd Star: Matt Kowalski (1 goal & 1 assist)
3rd Star: Austin Roden (37 saves)
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