Warriors get crucial win

The West Kelowna Warriors picked up a crucial two points at just the right time.

Losers of seven of their last eight, the Warriors closed out the home portion of the regular season in style, a 4-3 overtime win over the visiting Trail Smoke Eaters.

The win means the Warriors can finish no worse than sixth in the Interior Division and, with a win Saturday in the season finale in Trail, could slide into fifth.

Lucas Cullen banged home his second of the night on a rebound 1:30 into overtime on a West Kelowna power play.

It ended a back-and-forth affair between two teams wanting to avoid the division cellar.

"I thought we were resilient. I thought we finally got some bounces that went our way," said head coach Brandon West.

"I thought our guys deserved it. It was a back and forth game that we found a way to win in the end."

In was a stark contrast over the past eight games where the Warriors seemed at times to find ways to lose, instead of win.

After a sluggish start, the Warriors finally found their legs midway through the first and took the play to the Smokies the rest of the period. They were eventually rewarded when Mike Hardman took a pass near the edge of the crease, moved to the front of the net and slid the puck into the empty half of the net.

It was his team-leading 38th of the campaign.

Cullen bagged his first of the night 18 seconds into the second. With the Warriors enjoying a two man advantage, Cullen found himself with the puck in the slot.

He waited for the defenceman to provide a screen, then sent a wrist shot past Donavon Buskey.

Trail got one back minutes later when Braeden Tuck's shot from the right circle through traffic hit something and dribbled between the pads of Connor Hopkins.

They tied it three minutes on a terrible turnover just inside the blue line.

But, unlike other games over the past month, the Warriors didn't surrender the next goal.

Still deadlocked at 2-2 in the third, Cavin Tilsley tapped in a centering pass to put the Warriors up a goal.

Tuck tied it five minutes later, forcing overtime, and Cullen's eventual winner.

"It's February hockey. Their first goal goes off one of our backsides and in. That's what's been happening to us lately.

"They tied it up, but we continued to push. Credit to our guys, this was final,ly the one where we got the break. Finally!"

The Warriors now have 57 points, two better than Trail, and two back of Salmon Arm, who fell 5-2 to Penticton Friday.

The Silverbacks close out the season in Penticton Saturday and, a regulation loss, coupled with a Warriors win, would give West Kelowna fifth by virtue of more overall wins.

They also hold the same tiebreaker over Trail should the Smokies come out on top Saturday.

Regardless of where they finish, the Warriors will open the playoffs on the road next Friday night in either Wenatchee or Vernon.


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