Warriors crush Cents, magic number 1

The West Kelowna Warriors magic number to clinch a BC Hockey League playoff spot is down to one following a convincing 7-2 victory Tuesday over the visiting Merritt Centennials.

One more win or a loss by Salmon Arm will officially give the Warriors one of four Interior Division playoff spots up for grabs.

Liam Blackburn and Kylar Hope each had two goals and an assist to pace the Warriors offence Tuesday.

Seb Lloyd and David Pope both had a goal and two assists while Tyson Dallman with his 20th also scored for the Warriors. Jason Cotton and Carl Hesler both chipped in with three assists.

It was the biggest offensive output of the season for Hope who came into the game with a goal and four assists.

Hope had spent much of the season either on the four line or rotating in and out of the line-up when the Warriors had a healthy compliment of bodies.

He relished the opportunity to show his offensive skill on a line with Lloyd and Cotton.

"It was nice for them to give me this chance. "I guess I needed some confidence but playing with those guys made it very easy and I guess it worked out tonight," says Hope of the chance to play on one of the top two lines.

"I understand that you play your role - you do what you can to help the team win."

Assistant coach Brent Gough agreed the extra ice time and extra offensive opportunity allowed Hope to find that part of his game.

"You put him with some good players tonight and he flourished," says Gough .

"I thought he played his best game of the year. He had two goals and an assist but even more than that he was competing on pucks - he just had a little more jump in his step I thought."

The Warriors jumped on the undermanned Centennials from the opening faceoff and were rewarded when Pope buried a snapshot past Jarred Schamerhorn off a faceoff in the Merritt end.

Seven minutes later Lloyd faked a shot from the left circle and spotted a wide open Hope in the slot whose one-timer found the half open net.

After the Centennials cut the deficit in half late in the first the Warriors kept up the pressure in the second with three unanswered goals.

Blackburn scored what proved to be the game winner (his team leading 6th) when he got three whacks at a loose puck before finally lifting it high over Schamerhorn.

He banged home another rebound later in the period to put the Warriors up 4-1 before Lloyd netted his 16th to put the game out of reach.

Since a deflating 6-2 home defeat at the hands of the Vernon Vipers 10 days ago the Warriors have found their game again, winning three of their last four while outscoring the opposition 20-9.

"We're playing some good hockey right now. Even when we were on that 12 game winning streak...near the tail end of it we weren't playing great hockey," says Gough.

"I think the last few games we have played a solid 60 minutes. It was a great effort, they're (Merritt) a great team. They work hard, they never quit tonight and I think our guys responded well."

With playoff positioning is still very much in doubt in the Interior Division Tuesday's game was, potentially, a playoff preview.

Gough wouldn't talk about that possibility with a playoff berth not yet clinched.

"We'd like to have an X beside our name before we start talking about that but right now I think we're just trying to get wins. We're one win away from clinching a playoff spot and that's our first goal right now," says Gough.

Cody Porter stopped 28 shots to improve his record to 7-3-1-1.

It was Porter's fourth consecutive start in place of the injured Andy Desautels.

Speaking of injuries, the Warriors finished the game with just 16 skaters after losing both defenceman Ryan Fraser-Lee and forward Nathan Craft to undisclosed injuries.

Gough says both will be re-evaluated Wednesday morning.

Tuesday's win moved the Warriors within a single point of the division leading Penticton Vees. Both have seven games remaining.

The third place Vernon Vipers are nine back while Merritt and Salmon Arm are 12 and 13 points back respectively.

All five teams have seven games left.

The Warriors are back in action again Friday night when they host the Victoria Grizzlies. Victoria, second in the Island Division will be looking for some semblance of revenge Friday against a Warriors team that clawed their way back from a 3-0 deficit in a 4-3 overtime win in the provincial capital two weeks ago.

West Kelowna will make their final regular season visit to Vernon Saturday.


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