The West Kelowna Warriors kicked off a new era of junior hockey in West Kelowna Friday night with a 5-3 nailbiter over the two-time reigning BCHL champion Penticton Vees.
Nearly 1,300 fans watched the two teams exchange goals all night long before Cal Hughes finally salted it away outmuscling a Penticton defender for a loose puck and sliding it into an empty net in the dying seconds.
European imports Johannes Løkkeberg and Viggo Nordström didn't disappoint.
Løkkeberg scored twice including an early candidate for goal of the year and added an assist on Hughes' game clincher.
His second goal, which briefly snapped a 2-2 tie was a thing of beauty. He gathered the puck on the right side in the offensive zone and drove down low, circling around the Penticton net.
He slowed near the left faceoff circle, turned to face the net and somehow snuck a shot inside the far post past Penticton goaltender Andrew Ness.
Nordström picked up a pair of assists.
The game was played a a high level pace, a pace you would expect to see mid season, not during a season opener...and the energy level was electric all night.
"We've been going for a month here and pushing pace and we knew that's the level (Penticton) were going to be at, and I like the way our guys competed tonight," said Warriors head coach Simon Ferguson.
The teams trade goals back-and-forth all night with the Warriors holding one goal leads on three different occasions, only to see the Vees come back and find the equalizer. But, despite several good chances, were unable to take the lead.
Rorke Applebee, who came in as the team's number one goaltender was outstanding despite allowing three goals.
He made three crucial stops in the opening period when the game was still scoreless and again stoned the Vees one two odd-man rushes and one point-blank chance off a giveaway to keep the Warriors a goal up late in the third period.
His performance caught the eye of Ferguson who agreed Applebee kept them in it, especially down the stretch.
Michael Salandra with a nifty tip in of Nordström's pass on an odd man rush and newcomer Trent Wilson from the right circle off the rush also scored for the Warriors. Wilson's goal with just under 10 minutes left in regulation time stood up as the game winner.
Simon Meier, Callum Arnott and Billy Renfrew scored for the Vees.
Despite some extra curricular activities after the whistle, both teams managed to get just one power play. Both teams made good on their opportunity.
The Warriors look to make it a perfect start to the regular season when they travel to Trail to face the Smoke Eaters Saturday.
Trail dropped their opener 5-4 to Cranbrook in overtime.
The Vees look to bounce back Saturday night in Merritt.