A day after seeing their win-streak ended by a desperate team, the Chilliwack Chiefs showed some grit of their own Saturday en route to a hard-earned victory over the same Merritt Centennials squad that beat them the night before.
The Cents beat Chilliwack 5-3 Friday night in Merritt, but the Chiefs got their revenge the following night in a fiercely contested 3-2 win at Prospera Centre.
The Friday loss ended both the Chiefs' six-game win streak and Merritt's own three-game losing skid.
The two teams traded chances, and goals in the first period. Spencer Graboski scored just 1: 37 in, but Merritt's Dane Birks evened the score on the power play midway through the frame.
The Centennials came out strong in the second period and put three goals past Chiefs goalie Mitch Gillam in the first eight minutes to make the score 4-1. Power play markers from Luke Esposito, late in the second, and Spencer Graboski, midway through the third, tightened the scoreline but couldn't salvage the game.
"I thought Merritt was certainly the better team," Chiefs head coach Harvey Smyl said. "They looked desperate-maybe from losing three games straight."
The following night, playing in front of their largest crowd of the year-2,779 fans-Smyl's Chiefs ground out a 3-2 victory with special teams again playing a crucial part.
After a goal-less first period punctuated by an early scrum that saw players pair off and Graboski and Merritt's John Saunders fight, the Chiefs power play went to work in the second.
With Merritt down a man, Luke Esposito took a sly behind-the-net feed from Austin Plevy to open the scoring.
Sebastien Pare capitalized on a Ben Israel turnover midway through the period to even the score. But Plevy quickly responded on another man advantage. Israel's power play point shot missed the net but bounced back towards the side of the net, from where Plevy shot into a yawning cage.
Derek Huisman scored on a near-identical play in the third to tie the game-although a high shot forced the former Chief to bat the puck out of mid-air for his goal.
But the Cash Mob-inspired crowd was not to be denied their happy ending. With 4: 15 left in the game Jaret Babych flubbed a shot from the side of the net that eluded Merritt netminder Tyler Steel and gave the Chiefs the win.
While he noted the game could have gone either way, Smyl thought his team deserved the good result.
"It was a character performance by our guys," he said. The Chiefs started the game with a shortened bench: forward Ryan Donohoe was out with a shoulder injury and defencemen Alexandre Perron-Fontaine and Kiefer McNaughton were also sidelined with injuries. Affiliate player Brandon Volpe drew into the lineup, but things got even tighter when Tanner Cochrane was tossed from the game in the first period for a hit-from-behind.
"Guys were put in certain roles they haven't been in all year," Smyl said. "We used everybody on that bench and everybody contributed in some way."
GILLAM LEADS PK
Saturday's game featured numerous infractions and saw the Chiefs penalty killing put to the test. Merritt boasts the league's best power play, while Chilliwack's penalty killing entered the weekend tops in the BCHL.
On Friday night, the Centennials prevailed, scoring on two of three opportunities. If they could have done the same Saturday, the Chiefs would have lost. Instead, Chilliwack's penalty killers limited Merritt to just one goal on nine chances.
Smyl gives goalie Mitch Gillam much of the credit for his team's ability to kill off penalties this year.
"It usually starts with your goaltending," he said. "A lot of times we give up the perimeter shot, [often] because we know Mitch is capable and doesn't give away second opportunities, and then we're doing a great job of boxing people out and keeping them on the outside and really working well as a group."
CHIEFS STILL RANKED NINTH
The Chiefs held onto ninth spot in the Canadian Junior Hockey League's weekly rankings. Victoria and Penticon also feature in the rankings, while the Surrey Eagles earned an honourable mention.