It's game on in the race for second spot in the tight BC Hockey League Interior Division.
The West Kelowna Warriors crept to within three points of idle Merritt in what is likely a battle for home ice advantage in round one of the playoffs with a thrilling 2-1 victory Tuesday over the visiting Vernon Vipers.
Devon Hascarl scored what proved to be the game winner midway through the opening period when he snapped a one-timer past Austin Smith off a cleaver centering feed from Matt Anholt.
The goal came seven minutes after Shawn Hochhausen opened the scoring with one of the strangest goals you'll see anywhere.
Hochhausen flipped the puck in deep from just over the center ice red line, it hit a rut or landed on its edge, immediately turned right and past a bewildered Smith.
The Vipers lone goal 13 minutes into the second period came off a scramble at the side of the Warriors net when Liam Board managed to somehow squeeze the puck between Steven Myland and the post into the crease where it lay until Jason Bird tapped it into a wide open net.
The goaltenders took over from there shutting the door the rest of the way.
Warriors head coach Rylan Ferster says he didn't like the way the team played in the opening 20 despite the two goal lead but says they settled down the rest of the way, especially defensively.
"I don't think we gave them much in the second and third period but, they're a very good team. There's so much parity in our division and I don't care where they are (in the standings), they're still Vernon," says Ferster.
"When you play them they don't give up a lot and tonight we got the one lucky goal."
The game was wide open in spurts, more wide open than Ferster would like.
"I thought there were a lot of three-on-twos both ways - we certainly gave up too many," says Ferster.
"I don't think we want to play a run-and-gun game. I think we have speed but we have to realize we are going to defend first. We talked about that after the first period about back checking properly and not necessarily getting three guys caught on the forecheck."
The Vipers lost the services of defenceman Geoff Crisfield who was handed a major penalty for charging and a game misconduct after he drilled Warriors Marcus Basara into the boards.
Basara was tended to on the ice for a few minutes, however, he did return to the game later in the period.
Myland turned aside 34 shots to earn his third win in four games while Hascarl, mostly on a line with Anholt and Ambrose Firkus had one of his better games of the season.
"I thought he played real well and I tried to get him out in a couple of more situations. I've had him for three years now and I know he's a good hockey player and I know he gets a little more revved up to play Vernon because that's where he's from."
Hascarl says it the win was important to set up the big weekend with Merritt.
"That was a big two points. It's really good that we had a game that was a little closer - it gets you in the playoff mentality," says Hascarl.
"A 2-1 game is a big win."
He says he's looking forward to the weekend.
"Playing against Merritt is obviously a big deal and so far we have done well with Merritt," says Hascarl.
"When you go into Merritt it's a small arena and you have to be ready for a battle. Every win we get towards them is a big win for our team."
The two teams will battle Friday at Royal LePage Place before the re-match Saturday in Merritt.
The Warriors have gone 5-0 against the Centennials this season but all have been one goal games including a pair that have gone to overtime.
Friday's game is the final regular season home game for the Warriors who close out the regular season the following weekend with three games on Vancouver Island.