The Chilliwack Chiefs beat the Merritt Centennials 2-1 Wednesday night in perhaps the most entertaining home game of the season thus far.
The second and third place teams in the Interior conference standings went toe-to-toe for 60 minutes. In the end, Chilliwack moved two points closer to overtaking the Cents, and beat Merritt for the first time in three head-to-head meetings.
An up-tempo first period featured plenty of flow, good end-to-end action and scoring chances aplenty.
But no goals.
Through 20 minutes, Chiefs netminder Mitch Gillam and his Merritt counterpart, Tyler Steel, kept the game at goose-eggs.
Chilliwack native Josh Hansen was in the middle of a couple plays early in the second period.
Defensively, the 19-year-old saved a goal, sweeping a puck off the goal-line after it snuck through Gillam.
Minutes later, Hansen’s backhand pass set up Michael Spring for the game’s first goal. Spring took the pass and ripped a shot from the high slot, catching the bottom corner on Steel at 5:12 of period two.
The Chiefs doubled their lead three and a half minutes later on a power play goal by David Bondra. With Centennials defenceman Tyler Martin serving two minutes for holding, Chilliwack captain Ty Miller fired a wrist shot from the point. Bondra cruised through the blue paint, poking the rebound past Steel at 8:40.
Merritt answered back on a power play of their own.
Shay Laurent was sent off for holding at 10:14. One minute later, Cents D-man Billy Marshall floated a wrister through a screen, beating Gillam for his ninth of the season.
Leading 2-1 through 40 minutes, the Chiefs came within inches of adding to their lead early in the third.
Malcolm Gould found Bondra with a perfect pass, and Bondra had Steel at his mercy as he cut left to right across the goal-mouth. But the Maryland native slid his shot a puck-length wide of the right goal post and the Centennials dodged a bullet.
Merritt pressed and had a great chance with just over six minutes remaining. Working on a power play, the Cents had a wide open net when Gillam came out to stop a shot and got caught way out of position. But Chilliwack blueliner David Thompson channeled his inner Bernie Parent and came up with a game saving stop.
Steel came to the Merritt bench with 40 seconds left in period three, but Merritt couldn’t net the equalizer.
The three stars were Gillam (first), Hansen (second) and Marshall (third).
Announced attendance was 1,672